Is it a sin to use notes when giving a speech? Should you have your presentation memorized and so well practiced that you never need to glance at a note card?
According to Garr Reynolds over at Presentation Zen and an email from Eric Feng at The Public Speaking Blog, you should never, ever use notes or cue cards. To do so, according to them, means certain death as a speaker.
I wholeheartedly disagree. There is nothing wrong with using notes as long as you don’t misuse them.
But before I dig into this, you should know that both Garr’s and Eric’s directives were inspired by Cingular’s CEO Stan Sigman’s recent speech at MacWorld back in January. Apparently Stan bored his audience by reading his speech from his 4×5 note cards. Ugh! Not only did he lose his audience but he inspired the online insults and distain of several bloggers who were in attendance.
But was Stan’s demise because of his use of notes or his misuse of notes? I believe it was the latter. I agree that no one should read their speech from there notes. If you’re going to read it, you might as well not even bother to present it.
There is a way to use notes effectively and confidently. To ellaborate, let me jump off of the points from Dale Carnegie that Garr used in his blog post. (They appear near the middle of his post).
Point One: "Notes destroy fifty percent of the interest in your talk."
My Take: Only if you read them or are so tied to them that you aren’t able to speak conversationally, naturally. Notes won’t "destroy" anything if you use them as a tool to keep you headed in the right direction.
Point Two: "Notes prevent contact and intimacy with the audience."
My Take: Again, only if your face is stuck in them and you are reading from them. You can be in connection and relationship with your audience and still glance at your notes from time to time.
But here’s the trick. If you need to look at your notes, stop speaking, glance at them, then look up and be with your audience before you start talking again. Do not speak to your audience while looking at your notes. THAT will cut the connection with your audience. But an audience won’t feel cut off if you glance at your notes UNLESS you try to hide the fact you are doing so. More on this in Point 6.
Point Three: "Notes create an air of artificiality."
My Take: I don’t even know what that means. How does using notes create an air of artificiality?
Point Four: "Notes make the speaker look less confident, less powerful."
My Take: This is true only if the speaker isn’t confident about using notes. If you feel you shouldn’t be using them, that you need to apologize for using them, then yes, you may come across as embarrassed and ill at ease. But if you are comfortable using your notes, if you don’t feel any need to apologize for them, then you can use them with confidence.
As for looking less powerful, pleeeeeze! Should we be worried about looking powerful? Isn’t it more important to actually feel powerful? If you feel empowered and more confident by using notes, than you will also appear confident and powerful.
Point Five: "Make lots of notes in the preparation of your talk, but use them only in the event of a total emergency."
My Take: A total emergency? Oh, that’s great advice. I’m sure you will feel much more confident and at ease if you wait until it’s an emergency before looking at your notes. Heaven forbid you grant yourself the comfort and ease of looking at your notes BEFORE it becomes an emergency.
Point Six: "If you must use notes make sure the audience does not see them. That is, "…endeavor to hide your weakness from the audience.""
My Take: Gack! This one just makes me crazy! Not only does it insult you and your audience, but it implies that you need to hide yourself from them, that you can’t reveal the fact that you need to glance at your notes. Why? Do you think your audience really cares?
If you try to hide what you are doing from your audience, you will lose connection and intimacy with them. You won’t lose them by using your notes, but you will lose them by trying to hide the fact you are using them.
Hiding anything implies a certain shame, embarrassment or secrecy which creates suspicion, uncertainty and distrust in your audience. Be real and out in the open with your audience and you will not only invite an authentic connection and intimacy with them but you will establish yourself as credible and trustworthy.
So, no, don’t read your speech from your notes. Use them only to jog your memory and keep you on track. Often, just knowing that they are there offers you enough support to not have to use them at all. But if you do, don’t try to hide it. Stay in connection with your audience by letting them see you glance at them. Don’t talk into your notes. Take a glance then lift your head and let your eyes be available to your audience before you resume speaking.
And, Stan, don’t give up. I know it must have felt horrible to have your audience squirming in their seats as you were talking. I mean, reading. But you just need a little coaching. You’ll do better next time.