Don’t use notes when giving a speech, use a prompt sheet.

If you are new to public speaking, there is a tendency to want to use notes as a crutch. This is understandable, as you feel nervous and tend to lose your place.

What I have learned from my own experience as a speaker, and also from helping others become better speakers, is that using the notes from your speech can actually cause you to feel more flustered.

For one thing, you tend to look at the notes and ignore the audience.

Then worst of all, if you can’t read the notes clearly, it makes you feel more nervous because you’ve lost the guidance you were depending upon.

So what should you do instead of using notes for a speech?

I suggest using what I call a ‘prompt sheet.’

I first learned this idea from watching musicians play. Typically each musician will have a set list, which is an overview of the titles of the songs they are going to play.

They don’t have the lyrics of each song, or their notes written out in detail in front of them. Instead, they have a set of words, usually written in large font, that act as prompts about what to play next.

When giving a speech, this is a good idea to try out.

As you practice and rehearse, get more familiar with your main points, and slowly whittle down your notes until they are simply headings on the page. The headings should be the titles of your key points, which you can refer to if you get lost halfway through.

I have found when I had full notes sitting on a lectern, that I would try to look down and read from them halfway through speaking and get disoriented. That would make me more confused and nervous.

Therefore, having keywords written in large font or handwriting will at least give you a place to go back to if you get a little lost.

The desire for notes is normal early on, but the sooner you learn to internalize your main message, the better you will feel. Then if you need notes to prompt you, a simple set of keywords on a page will do the trick.

This enables you to stay much more engaged with your audience, and feel a sense of connection with them.

Daniel Midson-Short


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