It’s not whether you use notes, it’s how well you use them.
Whether you are asked to do a presentation at the last minute or you’ve had a month to prepare you can apply the following principles. We are going to assume here that the presentation is important.
Have a set of notes prepared that are typed up, double spacing and a large font such that if you glanced down to your notes at desk height you could read them. You can either type these up word for word or just have key messages that you elaborate on.
It’s useful to have a script so that at a later date you can review exactly what you coverd. However you would never read the script word for word whilst presenting. Instead you would highlight key words or phrases and link them together. This way it sounds more natural and engaging. This also means that you only have to remember the key words or phrases and not the whole thing.
Cue cards are ok, however they are typically a technique taught at school, so if you decided to use cue cards then be aware of the impression you are creating. Having said that, I have seen speakers at TED talks use cue cards.
If you are using notes laid out on a desk or a lectern follow these steps.
- Have the pages numbered, typed up, single sided, not stapled and using the formatting outlined above.
- As you finish one page slide it across the desk or lectern so that you have a two-page spread – you can then see at a glance where you are going and where you have been. This is the technique news readers use for their backup notes in case the auto cue stops working.
- When presenting, firstly look down, take the key message in look up without speaking, make eye contact with someone and then speak. After you have covered off that message, look down without speaking take the next message in, look up, make eye contact and speak.
This technique can also be used for cue cards however you are only going to have key messages written on the cards and of course you would move the cards from the front of the deck to the back.
Now this method sounds very clunky and robotic, but with practice you will be able to make it your own by smoothing out the technique so that it looks natural and you look comfortable. If you spoke whilst reading your notes a few times in a presentation would it matter? – probably not. Our goal here is not to lose our connection and nonverbal feedback from the audience.