Notes or Not

Notes or NotThis post is admittedly about an item of personal preference when it comes to public speaking. To share my bias right up front, I’m a no notes if possible kind of guy. I don’t go without them completely all the time, but my preference is to avoid notes. There a couple of reasons for this.

First, notes have the potential to be a distraction for you and for the audience. When you’re holding notes or standing behind a podium so you can see your notes, a barrier is placed between you and the audience. Since my goal is always audience engagement, I’m conscious of not putting any barriers up if I can help it.

Second, notes can hinder spontaneity. When I’m presenting there are times when a comment from a participant or a moment of inspiration takes me off topic briefly. If I’m holding notes those moments might be missed or, worse yet, when I return to my notes after such a moment it might take me an awkward moment to retrace where I was in the notes. That breaks up the flow of my presentation.

However, if and/or when you choose to use notes be clever about how you do it. I know some professionals who tape large pieces of paper to the front of a table or desk (usually the table where the sound tech is sitting) that can’t be seen by the audience but can be easily read from stage. Think cue card guy on Letterman. Others will have a small table on stage with a bottle of water and the notes sitting inconspicuously next to it. Taking a sip of water gives you a chance to check your notes.

One of my favorite presentation methods includes audience interaction. I keep notes off to the side on a music stand and when the audience is talking to one another about a question I just asked there’s time for me to walk over to the notes and review the next segment of the presentation.

There are all sorts of ways to use notes that don’t include the stereotypical holding a stack of note cards in your hands. If you know your material and are comfortable with what you’re presenting your notes shouldn’t be more than a single page with some bullet point reminders anyway. As I said at the top, this is a matter of personal preference. But the best of the best presenters are always note free or at least give the appearance that they are.

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