Imagine you are delivering a technical presentation to more than 300 peers at a conference. Your boss had convinced you to develop and deliver the presentation. You are scared to death of speaking in public. As you stand at the lectern holding onto it for dear life, nervousness prevents you from making eye contact with anyone in the audience. In your hands are your notes, which could have helped guide your thoughts, but they are shaking so much that you cannot read the 12-point font size. The audience becomes more focused on your slow death than on the content of your speech. It’s a disaster, one of the most humiliating days of your life.
A hypothetical story? Sadly, it’s not. It happened to an acquaintance of mine, a highly skilled engineer who knew his subject inside and out but wasn’t able to maintain his composure, keep his thoughts and, most important, read his notes effectively. I never saw him present again.
It’s best not to use notes, but if you must, use them effectively. At the least, use them as sparingly as possible.
Notes can diminish your level of eye contact and engagement with the audience. Read from a lectern, notes anchor you and prevent the use of purposeful movement that could enhance your presentation. When you recite mechanically from notes, bullet points or a PowerPoint, you are less effective. Engage the audience with a story, then walk back to the lectern solely for the purpose of glancing at notes.
SOME REASONS FOR USING NOTES
- Not enough time to prepare and memorize the information.
- The information is highly technical and difficult to remember.
- You have quotes or numbers that you want to deliver accurately.
- Your presentation is lengthy or does not have a strong “flow” to it, and it is difficult to remember.
- You have trouble remembering information under stressful conditions.
SHEETS OF PAPER
- Use stiff paper such as 32 lb. – it is easier to handle, and shaky hands will be less obvious. Number the sheets in case you drop them and need to reassemble them in a hurry.
- Use a large font size, such as 20 point, so your eyes can pick up the gist of a sentence with just a quick glance. If possible, just include key words, bullet points or a mind map that will guide you through your presentation.
- If using a lectern or something similar to rest your notes on, discreetly slide the sheet to the side when you are finished with it.
- To keep the notes less obvious, do not staple them together or print on both sides (so you don’t have to visibly manipulate them).
- Your introduction should also be on stiff paper and in a large font size, as the person introducing you may be nervous or have difficulty reading the sentences.
- Sometimes while giving a presentation, I carry a note card in my pocket that contains a few bullet points to help me get back on track should I lose my way. I keep this in a consistent place (the right-hand pocket inside my jacket) so I do not distract the audience by having to search for it.
- Note cards should be identical size, on stiff paper, with a font size that is easy to read.
- Keep the information to key words, brief sentences, bullet points or a basic mind map.
- Number them so if you drop them you can easily return them to the correct order.
- Practice sliding the cards from top to bottom as you finish with them.
- Some presenters and trainers use handouts with “fill in the blanks.” Key words are left out of a sentence, and trainees fill in the blank when prompted by the presenter. These handouts help a presenter stay on track (the handout is a step-by-step guide) and help the trainees better remember the information.
- Handouts should be numbered so you can direct the audience to a specific page. You also may want to highlight important sections in the handout so you can direct the audience to a specific part: “Let’s jump to page 3, the last paragraph that is highlighted in yellow.”
A FLIP CHART
- A flip chart is another covert method of using notes. Information you want to cover or are going to write on the flip chart as part of your presentation can be written on it in light pencil ahead of time. These hidden cues can help jog your memory.