How To Deliver A Great Presentation Using Notes

This is the second post in a six-part series focusing on the various methods of delivering a presentation, including talking from a script, using a script with “holes,speaking from notes, using a teleprompter, and memorizing your talk.

As you read in the last post, most of today’s presentations are delivered from notes. Such an approach allows speakers to benefit from having the best of two worlds: a well-organized structure and a conversational tone.

Notes typically take the form of bulleted lists or outlines, but can also include a few verbatim passages for quotes, excerpts, or transitions that require precision. If your personal preference is to begin by writing a complete script before whittling it down, that’s fine — but as you practice your presentation, eliminate as many words from your script as possible and keep only what’s necessary to trigger your memory. Think of those concise memory triggers like golf: the fewer the words, the better your score.

If I was delivering the previous lesson to a live audience, my notes might look as follows:

· Script, notes, teleprompter or memory?
· Consider format, goals, audience
· Precision vs. connection

Print your notes in a large font on 8½ x 11 paper or notecards. Number the pages in case they become out of order. If using PowerPoint, mark on your notes where to click each slide (I use the abbreviation “PPT”), bold it, and highlight it in yellow.

Rather than holding your notes — which can distract an audience and inhibit your body language — set them atop a table, a stool, or your laptop (but avoid resting them on a lectern, as it’s usually best to speak without one).

Discuss the room setup in advance with the person handling logistics to ensure you have what you need come presentation day.

Some speakers add extra words to their PowerPoint decks so their slides can double as their notes. For a variety of reasons, that’s often a bad idea (one reason: words on the screen should be added solely for the audience’s benefit, not yours). A better option is to use PowerPoint’s “notes” feature, in which you can enter your memory triggers beneath each slide. You can print a “notes page” version — one page per slide — which contains an image of the slide being projected to the audience and its related notes, which are visible only to you. Most speakers maintain their audience connection better when using a printed version of their notes rather than straining to read the notes directly from their laptop’s screen.

The Grocery Cart Rule
Two women shopping in supermarket
You may have experienced that panic-inducing moment during a presentation when, while finishing one point, you realize that you have no idea what your second point was supposed to be. At that moment — when you’re having an almost out-of-body experience in which your mouth is finishing the first point while your mind is scrambling for the second — remember what one of our clients described as his “Grocery Cart Rule.”

When he goes shopping, he pulls one item off the shelf, places it securely into the cart, and then—and only then—reaches for the next item he wants to purchase.

One of the benefits of using notes is that you can approach your presentations in much the same way. If you forget your second point as you’re finishing the first, stay in the moment. Complete the first point with all of the energy it deserves. Once you’ve completed it, let the room go silent for a few moments. Calmly glance down, spot your next memory trigger, look back up, and wait a beat — then introduce your next point.