Making and using notes for a presentation

Any speaker needs to have a way of remembering what they want to say. Ideally you’ll want to know your topic so well that you need no notes. But you may not have time to do that. Often, in real life, we’re asked to give a presentation at short notice. Or you can use your PowerPoint slides as prompts (though don’t get drawn into putting lots of text on your slides).

Alternatively, you can use notes. If you choose to use notes, my suggestion is to use either 3×5 or 8×5 index cards rather than an A4 sheet which can seem like a barrier between you and your audience. The advantage of the cards is that you can hold them in your hand or, preferably, put them on a lectern in front of you. This means you can glance down at them as you speak and you can use your hands to express yourself. The audience won’t be distracted from your speaking.

On the cards, write your prompts for your talk: the points you want to make, the examples and the stories. Write bullet points, not sentences. And make the writing big enough so that you can read it from a distance. A good test is to drop the cards on the floor. You should be able to read the cards standing above them.

Finally, you’ll want to number your cards in case you drop them. Or you can punch a hole through the final version of your cards and put a tag through them so they’re always in order. Number your cards backwards so that your final card is number 1. Then you’re counting down to 1. Often when you’re in the middle of the talk it’s helpful to be able to look at your cards and see from the numbers how much of the presentation you have left.

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