Relying on Notes

"I am so nervous. I'm really afraid that I will forget something. I should make some notes for myself..." -- Everyone Who Has Ever Given a Formal Speech

Notes are not your friend!

Don't Rely on NotesWhen people make mistake #1 above, writing an entire presentation word-for-word, and then trying to memorize the speech, they will feel really uncomfortable. The way that most people will try to ease this tension is to jot down a few notes to refer to. This fix will almost always make the speaker feel more nervous (not less nervous).

When our eyes move down to our paper, we lose contact with the audience. Visual feedback from your audience is an important part of the communication process. When we say something that the audience understands and agrees with, we receive subtle cues from them. Slight nods of the head tell us that the audience is in sync with us. When we read a presentation, though, we are constantly looking away from the audience. We lose connection with them. When we look back up, we will see NONE of those subtle cues anymore. That lack of comfort will slowly (or quickly) grow. As a result, we quickly look to our only source of comfort... Our notes. The process intensifies.

Even if you don't have something as dramatic as this happens, you might still have negative consequences. In our presentation skills classes, we show presenters how to build confidence speaking without having to rely on notes -- at all. Still, though, from time to time, a class member will sneak a note sheet into their final speech. I taught a class on Friday, and one of the class members did this. Of course, the speaker started out strong. The moment that she finished her current thought, though, instead of mentally processing the "what is next?" question, she looked down at her notes. She actually remembered what was next before her eyes actually got to her notes, though. So, she just quickly glanced down. I doubt that she even read anything on her note page. That habit continued over and over throughout the presentation. When we do this we look like the proverbial drinking bird toy. We are constantly dipping our beak into the water. It looks weird to the audience.

The good news, though, is that if you just design your presentation better and design your visual aids better, you don't need notes! Don't fall into the trap of relying on notes. If you feel like you really need to have notes to give a good presentation, please register for one of our 2-Day classes. It will do you a world of good.