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Presenting with or without notes?

This Thursday tip requires a short preamble. Indeed, with the “typical” presentations we run across being are very heavily overloaded with text, bullet points, tables and pie charts, the issue of notes doesn’t arise to the extent that it is the slide itself that plays the role of reminder.  The goal here is not to remind you about what we have already developed over and again: unreadable slides, commented on by a speaker who has his back to the audience, who has confused his presentation visual aid with notes of his speech, and which must disappear from our meetings! It is the antithesis of leadership and what a speech should be. Slides are not there for the speaker, but for the audience to get a firm grasp of the key messages of a presentation.

Once your slides have been simplified, making a clear difference between what is said and what is shown, the issue of notes can be raised. It’s pointless for us to maintain the suspense much longer: notes are useful and we recommend you use them. But having notes does not mean:

  • That you must use them,
  • That it’s a good idea to read them!

 

We regularly come across this danger with speeches given by managing directors. They are accustomed to having their speeches written for them and often, due to lack of time, just read their notes. Even if their credibility is not in question, their remarks will never be as impactful as they could be. By reading your notes, you consciously or unconsciously, project the feeling that you haven’t made the effort to work on this speech, or that it’s not important to you, or that it isn’t personally addressed to your audience.

Conversely, we usually give two thumbs up to those who manage to express themselves fluently without any notes. Obviously, the more you give the impression of mastering your subject, the more impact it will have. People who listen to you will always associate your ability to be an effective speaker with a real ability to carry your project. If you are not clear, people usually consider that you are not sufficiently ready.

In this quest for performance, some feel that having notes is a sign that they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Here we fall into the opposite extreme. From a pragmatic point of view, it is better to have notes and not use them, than putting pressure on yourself by presenting without notes and taking the risk of falling flat on your face.

Your notes have two objectives:

  • To keep track of the subject. It is always delicate to lose our train of thought when speaking in public. Not only will you be destabilized but you may also lose the consistency of your story.
  • To store the references related to your remarks: This way you’ll be able to fetch any details, names and numbers you need to easily answer questions or go deeper into a subject that you had not specifically intended to develop.

 

Your notes are the directions of your thoughts, the assurance that in looking at them you will never get lost. A good speaker does not share words he shares ideas.  Thus, he is both rooted in the present with his audience and sure of where he is taking them.  Your notes are to your remarks what a road map is to our car trips: a guarantee that we will always end up where we want to be, that we can take the shortest route when we are late, or we can linger along the way when it’s worth taking a detour.