How do I use note cards during my presentation?

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Notecards can be great prompts and make a speaker look prepared

Hi. How do you use notecards during your presentation? I’m Shola and I’m a speaker coach and a speaker and I think notecards are brilliant thing to use when you’re making presentations because they are a small enough. If you’ve got a three by five inch note card, it’s about this size and they’re small enough that they are fairly unobtrusive, they don’t get in the way, but equally they’re big enough that you can write something substantial on them and use them as prompts if you need them. Some people are a little bit anti using notecards because they feel that it’s cheating and they’d much rather than memorize the entire presentation. But I tend to feel that I feel more confident of a presenter who’s got notecards in their hand than one that hasn’t because I think if someone’s taken the effort to write some bits and pieces for themselves on notecards, they’re much more likely to deliver the full value of their presentation. Where as someone who hasn’t made any notes, maybe they’re going to forget a chunk of content or they’ll get a few facts and figures wrong.

Notecards can help you feel more confident on stage

That’s why I’m a big advocate of using notecards when I’m an audience member, but as a speaker coach, I also think that they can be incredibly helpful too, because they allow you to feel a bit more relaxed. If you don’t have any sorts of prompts or any kind of notes with you, you can often feel a little bit uncertain, lacking in confidence, worried, more worried about am I going to do a good job? More worried about whether you’re going to forget, than just about doing a great job for the audience. And you don’t want to be worried about, am I going to forget? Am I going to blank out? You want to have some way to take care of that just in case, you do. Something might happen. Maybe someone drops something or a phone rings and it just puts you off. You want to know that whatever happens in any situation, you are ready. And by having some notecards in your hand or on a table or in a pocket, it just gives you that extra bit of confidence.

Make sure you can read them easily while on stage – avoid tiny handwriting!

How should you use your notecards? One thing I don’t advise doing is writing in tiny letters on your notecards and just filling the whole thing up with just lots of really tiny text. Because if you do that, sometimes it’s just hard to read in a situation where you’re maybe a bit panicked or a bit anxious and you take out this notecard and there’s lots of tiny, tiny writing. You might have to actually bring it up here to read the writing. You don’t want to have to do that. You want to have several note cards and you may even have perhaps one note card per, if you’re using slides, one notecard per slides with your prompts there. Or you may, if you’re not using slides, you may just have maybe 10, 15 notecards and you glance at one and you see nice big writing there. What you need to see. Maybe you’ve got facts and figures there, perhaps you’ve got data.

Practise using them during rehearsal so it looks natural on stage

You grants at that, take what you need from it and then carry on speaking. And then when it’s time for the next notecard, you just surreptitiously, just in a way that’s not very obtrusive, you just put that top card to the back and then you take the next one. And all that can be done in a way that’s not disruptive at all to your audience so that they barely even notice that you’re looking at cards. And I remember when I did my TEDx talk, I was all panicked about having to memorize every word. And then there was somebody there who had notecards and she did really well. Very relaxed. Look to her notecards. You barely even notice that she was using them.

You can use different highlighters to give yourself cues about different types of information

Other things that you can do with notecards, as I say, remember to write nice and big so that you don’t have to pull them right up to your face to read them, you can keep them at sort of hip or kind of thigh level when you’re looking at the notecards. Another thing that you can do is sometimes I will use highlighter colors on my note cards. For example, if I’ve got some data or if I’ve got some numbers, I might use perhaps a yellow or a blue highlight on the numbers so that I know if I need to use the card, my eye is instantly pulled to that yellow where the numbers are right there. I don’t have to kind of glance around on the card and use up valuable seconds looking around for the right information on my notecard. You can do that as well.

Rehearse with the format you’ll be using during the presentation

Or you can write so big that you literally just have 10% of cat lovers prefer, you might have just that one fact written really big on your notecards and have plenty of notecards to get you through the presentation. But if you are using notecards, I recommend you also rehearse with them. Don’t rehearse perhaps with, I don’t know, sheets of paper and then last minute you just put everything onto the notecard because you won’t be familiar with where that information is on the notecards when you’re speaking. You want real familiarity with that content on the cards with the act of taking one card and putting it to the back and so on and so forth, so that it’s just a natural part of your presentation. It’s not, oh oh, I’ve got the cards now. Oh, how am I going to deal with these? You’ve already rehearsed it many a time. You feel super comfortable.

Notecards are fantastic aids for presenting when used well

Hope that helps. Notecards are a fantastic aid if you like to have something just to kind of jog your memory or to help you through your presentation. Definitely I recommend going to your local stationary store or wherever you get your notecards from and buying a packet of three by five inch notecards. Take care. Bye.

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Shola Kaye is an award-winning speaker, author and professional speaker coach with clients around the world. Her work has been mentioned in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and on the BBC.
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