What if I need notes for my presentation?

A young professional once explained her dilemma to me. “I’ll found out at 10:00 in the morning that I have to deliver a talk at 2:00 that same afternoon” she said.

The ideal, of course, would be to deliver this presentation with no notes. But this requires time to practice and then practice again and then practice some more. Delivering without notes communicates confidence as well as a mastery of the topic. It also increases eye contact and enables you to develop a real connection with your audience.

But this young professional is given no time to practice. All she has time to do is put her notes together, which she ends up reading from the page in her portfolio or from the text packed slides of her power point.


Reading from notes like a script destroys your credibility (how knowledgeable can you be on the topic if you have to read the content to me?) and does serious damage to the delivery of your presentation (why do I need you to deliver a presentation I can read for myself?)

But what if you need notes?

Odds are if you’re giving a presentation on short notice that you know your topic fairly well. It’s just a matter of the specific things you want to say and in what order you want to say them. So create the notes that you know you’ll need. An outline works best as a quick reference for your three key topics and under each key topic the fine points you want to cover.

Writing your presentation out word for word like an essay leaves you unable to look down quickly and pick up what you need to say next. An outline should have enough detail to jog your memory but not so much that it acts like a script. Most likely, you’re presenting in a conference room so you can place your outline on the table in front of you for quick reference if needed.

Once you have your notes you can prepare your power point slides. The slides you create should be as simple as possible. Use images or simple graphs and let your text be just a key word or two.

Now you have two tools that will help you remember your content. The first is your power point slide. The content on the slide should be just enough to prompt you regarding the key topic you want to cover (without being so much content that the audience can simply read your slide and you as presenter become superfluous). But if the simple content on your slide doesn’t help you remember everything you need to cover you can refer to the outline that’s resting on the conference room table just in front of you

There is nothing wrong with interrupting your presentation for a few moments to check your outline and make sure that you’ve covered all you need to or to remind yourself of what you want to cover next. Don’t apologize for checking your notes or try to fill the silence with rambling while you review those notes.

Simply stop talking and check your notes. Don’t be in a rushed panic because the audience will wait for you. As soon as you’re ready you can reengage eye contact and resume your presentation.

This method maintains your credibility while giving you the ability to reference your notes and leaves you as the focal point of the presentation.


Want to discuss your next big presentation? Just get in touch.

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