Having seen quite a number of speeches, I've seen people use all different kinds of methods for organizing their notes. Some people write the whole speech out on paper and read it, some have key points on pages that they flip through. Some people have note cards, some print out their PowerPoint slides.
No matter the method, there is one thing all these people have in common: they usually don't need their notes. When it comes down to it, notes usually serve as nothing more than a distraction for both the audience and the speaker.
So before I begin talking about how to use notes effectively, I want to make it clear that not having any notes is always the best option. I can however understand if having notes in front of you makes you feel more confident. So how can you use your notes in a way that makes them less of a distraction? Here are seven easy tips:
1. Never talk about your notes
If you say things like: "Let me see here...," "I know I wrote the next part down somewhere," or "Good thing I brought my notes along!" everyone in the audience is suddenly focused on your notes instead of you and your message.
2. Never apologize for referencing your notes
If you forget what comes next, calmly pause, check your notes and continue. There's no need for an apology. Like point #1, you just end up taking attention away from you. Having pauses in your speech is a good thing. It gives us time to think about what you just said. Pretend the pause is planned and use that time to regain your footing.
3. Don't read from your notes
There is nothing worse than the speaker who writes the entire speech and then stands up and reads it. That is not a speech, and there is no faster way to lose credibility with your audience.
4. Put your notes on the fewest number of pages possible
Since people generally don't reference their notes, what normally happens if they do suddenly need them is that they end up paging through everything searching for their place. This takes time and is very distracting to the audience. It also rattles the speaker as he panics searching for the next topic.
5. Write largely
Please don't write your notes your small that you need to pick them up and put them in front of your face to read them. You should write your notes large enough that you can read them easily from a distance - at least if they are sitting on the table next to you.
6. Organize your points clearly
Write short memory joggers that you can read at a glance, not long convoluted sentences. Highlight your main points so it's easy to find your place. Create a system that is logical to you and that you can remember in the heat of the moment.
7. Keep your cool
No matter what, don't panic. If you suddenly blank, take a moment to think about what comes next while your audience soaks up the last thing you said. If you stay calm you will most likely think of the next point without needing your notes. If you panic, you'll draw a blank and make the situation harder on yourself.
How do you make your notes work for you? Leave your tips here for others to learn from!