Six powerful ways to format speaking notes

Updated: Nov 1, 2018

All speeches are better when we don’t use notes. Notes tie us to the lectern. They stop us from using the whole stage. They take our focus away from the audience.

But sometimes you need notes. I’ve given presentations where I’ve needed them; the notes have contained facts and figures I haven’t been able to memorise. If you do need notes, here’s seven powerful ways to format them so our speaking notes are our friends.

Dot point your notes

Use dot points if you can. When practicing a speech, we often begin by learning the speech by rote. We can then reduce the speech to dot points.

With experience, you can speak off the cuff by simply using a word, phrase or sentence. This allows minimum reference to the page and maximum focus on the audience.

Space on the page

Use plenty of space on your document, and a legible font. Possibly something like Times Roman or Ariel. Use double spacing. Leave plenty of room between paragraphs. Also leave room in the margins. You may want to add some last minute comments. Wide margins will allow this.

Using the page

Only write on the top two thirds of the page. Dipping your head to read the bottom third closes your throat and makes your voice less powerful.

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Use color or underlining to indicate words that you want to emphasise . You can even put reminders in there about places to add emotional resonance. This might be places where you want to increase your volume or make a dramatic gesture. You can use your notes to indicate this.

Phones and tablets

In a word – don’t! Technology breaks down all the time. You’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen. What makes you think it won’t happen to you?

If you must use your tablet, then have a back up plan. Have a written copy – just in case.

Numbers count

Number your pages. It may be difficult to reorder them if you drop them at the last moment. You may even want to have them in an A4 folder.

If you need notes, use them, but don’t be a slave to them. Notes can be a useful aid when speaking. The best notes are those that we use to make our message more powerful, not detract from our message and our audience.

Likable links: & Churchill Notes


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