The Art of Using Notes

I’m often surprised that many speakers still fall prey to the fallacy that preparation means memorization — and that bringing notes to the podium might make you appear ill-prepared in the eyes of your audience. To the contrary, top presenters know it’s not what you bring to the podium but how you use it that sets apart good and great speakers.

While coaching both the CEO and Chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) for their main stage presentations at the 2009 NACS Show, I had the opportunity to observe the action from behind the scenes.

During one pre-event rehearsal, keynote speaker Roger Dow asked if there was a podium available and was directed to a small round table. Much to my surprise, he was looking for a home for his notes. Yes, in his hand was a red file folder containing notes for his presentation!

As someone who always has a manuscript handy when I present, I found myself both reassured by Dow’s approach and curious to see what he did with his script once he was on stage.

The Art of Concealment

From the start, Dow — a travel industry executive known for his dynamic keynotes on the importance of service — demonstrated an insider’s view of the convenience store industry. By quoting statistics, describing the culture, and acknowledging the challenging nature of the business, he combined obvious subject matter knowledge with a likeable, conversational style to quickly win over the audience.

Dow moved effortlessly from topic to topic, never straying far from his outline. He used of a series of short videos throughout the presentation — and took the opportunity to review his notes while the videos had the attention of the audience.

NACS Vice President of Communications Jeff Lenard was impressed by Dow’s ability to incorporate timely information into his remarks. Says Lenard, “Our CEO spoke with him in the green room just prior to his keynote, and Roger wove parts of that conversation into his speech.”

Staying Connected

Too often we believe that being a perfect presenter means memorizing our presentation, but it’s never about perfection! It’s about connection. And if having your script, outline or notes close at hand makes you a more confident presenter, then use them accordingly knowing that the confidence they bring to your presentation will help forge a strong bond with your listeners.

The trick is to be able to refer to your hard copy while staying connected with your listeners — which is precisely what Dow did. No one else in the audience knew his “secret, ” and I’d suspect that his occasional review of his notes allowed him to customize his remarks to the NACS audience to an even greater degree, such as incorporating some of the CEO’s comments on the fly. Bravo on both counts!

The Washington Speakers Bureau describes Dow’s presentation style as “a shot of adrenaline — a back-to-basics message that renews people’s spirit to serve.” That’s the kind of powerful audience connection we all aim to achieve — with or without notes.

Author's Bio: 

A strategic communication advisor, Stephanie Scotti helps people deliver winning presentation where the stakes are high . . . and results matter Drawing on her 25 years of coaching experience and 8 years of teaching presentation skills for Duke University, Stephanie understands what it takes to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into action that achieves results.

Stephanie has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, the highest levels of government officials, and international business executives.

An active member of National Speakers Association and an award-winning leadership professional, She also volunteers as a speaker or communications coach for non-profits such as the Red Cross and the Governing Institute of New Jersey. Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s in Speech Communications & Education and a Master’s in Organizational Communications & Business.