Stephen Fry doesn’t seem to be a fan, but President Obama can’t be without
So what are they? Private jets? Bodyguards? No, speaking notes, of course!
Many in the profession are reluctant to use speaking notes, thinking that to
use them would appear unprepared and unprofessional. Yet speaking notes are one
of the best resources available to any speaker.
One senior accountant I trained was conscious of his nerves and, as a result,
often spoke too quickly when giving presentations. Not only was he highly
uncomfortable, but so too was his audience. Aware of the issue he thought the
best thing to do was to memorise what he wanted to say and deliver his speech
As this was not always practical, we looked at a very powerful form of
speaker’s notes that he could follow unobtrusively, giving him the confidence to
relax and cover his subject matter without worrying that he would forget what he
wanted to say. His next presentation was a success. I asked him what had made
the difference and, without hesitation, he said ‘notes – and permission to use
There are no hard and fast rules to speaker’s notes, but some general
suggestions can make life much easier. Keep them short, with one or two words or
a single phrase that serve as prompts to remind you of your next point. Have
confidence in them and be very careful of the ad lib. It may work for Alan Carr
or Robin Williams, but could lead you into a verbal cul de sac.
Also avoid bobbing up and down. It gives the game away that you are reading,
rather than just thinking about what you’re going to say. A large font (18pt
size) in lower case, indented and double-spaced will be clearer and therefore
better than handwritten notes.
And remember, good notes help you speak in your natural conversational style,
make you look more spontaneous and remove the worry about what you want to say.
They also prevent you from rambling on, remind you what not to say and ease
So don’t be afraid to use notes. You’re not a Shakespearean actor and no one
is expecting you to memorise and deliver a word-perfect monologue.
Jack Downton is the managing director of The Influence
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