Clients often tell me that one of their main goals is to learn how to use few or no notes when presenting. And it can be important for many people, particularly in certain industries, to show their expertise in this way. I do, however, sometimes point out that there is no bravery award given out just because you went out there juggling on a tight-rope without a safety net!
I personally see notes, whether they are a few bullet points jotted on a cue card or one A4 sheet of paper, as a safety net. This allows you to get back on track if something happens and you become seriously distracted.
Or you’re a nervous presenter and find yourself having a mind blank or brain freeze. This can be the kind of horrible event which it can be hard to come back from; and having something written down which you can refer to to get you back on track, is highly reassuring.
However, if you’re not convinced by this argument that notes can be a good thing, and you think it looks unprofessional, then with practice you can certainly learn to reduce or eliminate notes! Particularly if you’re someone who basically reads from a script and barely looks up – then learning to use brief notes or eventually no notes at all is going to be a good move. When we can only see the top of your head as you read, this is obviously not an engaging experience for any audience! Plus you’re likely to fall into a slightly monotonous tone.
So the goal if you want to fix this, and either work just using your slides as cues if you have them, or cue cards, is to break it down into a series of steps:
First – the simple version:
If you’re someone who does have a script and your entire presentation written out, then aim the next time you give a presentation to cull your notes down to one page.
And when you’re comfortable with that, cull again in a future talk to half a page of bullets.
The next stage: just five bullets for example, using full sentences.
Then just five words on one cue card.
Finally – and only if you think this is a good idea – then no notes at all. (Remember, there’s no bravery award for it, and if you do get lost, you need to have a contingency plan for how you will recover.)
Second – the slightly more detailed version:
If you usually read your presentations and have written a full script – which is so incredibly time-consuming (believe me, I’ve done it in the past when creating webinar scripts, so I know) – I applaud you if you’re able to do that! If you haven’t written a full script then you could work off a mind map or one page, where you write down your key messages in some detail instead.
Make sure that you’ve divided your ideas up into clear and separated points or chunks of content. If you can’t separate your points clearly enough in your own mind, you’ll have trouble recalling them (unless you use slides to prompt you of course).
Highlight the keywords from each point or chunk of material and then run through it still using the full sentences that you’ve written or the script. Focus on the keyword specifically as you do so. You need to do this a number of times practising out loud for this one is crucial.
Start deleting words and leave only the highlighted or circled keywords or phrases. Again you need to practice – preferably allowed – using your keywords as reminders you are still using the same piece of paper at this point.
Write your keywords and any additional triggers needed on cue cards or a fresh sheet of paper. Your final step is to practice your talk aloud using only the cue cards as your aid.
So if one of your goals is to learn how to use few or no notes when presenting, I hope you find this useful in your preparation. Best wishes!