How To Write Speech Notes

How to create speech notes

Not that sort of notes!

How to write speech notes? That’s a good question!

Are you about to give a speech and wondering about the best sort of notes?

Creating the right speech notes can be quite difficult.

In this post we’ll look at how to write speech notes that work for you and help keep you on track when speaking to an audience.

Speech Notes for You

Most of us don’t have the confidence to manage without notes. It’s great if you can do it really well. But generally, it’s a good idea to have some form of notes when you are speaking or presenting.

So, what are the best kind of speech notes?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There isn’t a best kind!

Well, there is – it’s the notes that work for you.

They are the ones that are right for the particular speech or presentation that you are making. And what will work best may change with the context of your presentation.

Write the Right Notes for You

Your speech notes can be hand-held cards – 15cm x 10cm (6″ x 4″) probably works best as they are not too small but are easily manageable.

If you have use of a lectern, take advantage and go for A4 size. Card is better than paper as it’s easier to pick up and turn over, especially if you turn up the right-hand corners slightly so they can be gripped.

And don’t forget to clearly number the cards or pages to avoid any confusion.

Of course, there’s also technology. Tablets or even laptops can be used, but be wary that they aren’t intrusive. The latter probably needs a robust lectern.

If you’re delivering a PowerPoint presentation, you can use the presenter’s notes if you wish. Although small cards may still be a better option.

And no, filling your PowerPoint slides with words is not how to write speech notes!

If you’re asked to speak at a conference, you may even get to use a teleprompter. But make sure to practise with it before you speak.

There are many possibilities but one thing is for sure: don’t speak from a full script. Unless, of course, it is mandated by the event e.g. your script has already been released to the press.

Delivering a convincing presentation from a script is challenging and requires a lot of practice if you aren’t to come over as completely wooden and unconvincing.

Note Development

Practise your speech until you are familiar with it. It’s fine to start with quite a lot of notes. But then reduce them and try again. Maybe even give it a go without any notes to see how you get on.

The problem with notes is that the more you have, the more you will feel compelled to look at them. And then you aren’t making eye contact with your audience.

It may be helpful to use some colour.

For example, you could use colour to highlight the really important stuff or to differentiate between sections. However, when using coloured text, or highlighters, just be sure that the notes are clearly legible in all lighting conditions.

At some events, speakers are given a time limit. Colour can be used to highlight the target time at different points in the speech so that you can check that you are on schedule.

Spending time developing speaking notes is time well spent. As you work on them, the content of your presentation will imprint itself in your mind. Then, come the day, you will be able to speak more fluently and with minimal reference to the notes.

What to Include in Speaking Notes?

What should be included in your notes?

If you do nothing else, make a note of anything that you have to get right. For example, names, facts, dates and quotes.

When you speak to an audience you are under pressure. It is very easy to have a blank moment and forget some piece of information that is an important part of the message being delivered.

Most of the content isn’t critical. Only you will know exactly what you’d intended to say. If it comes out slightly differently, it won’t matter.

If you are using a quotation, write it in full, possibly on a separate card – and it’s OK to be seen to read it from the card. There’s nothing worse than launching in with, ‘Albert Einstein said’, and then not remembering what it was he said.

Typed or Handwritten Notes?

We’ve talked about how to ‘write’ speech notes. But typed notes are better unless you have very clear handwriting. And with typed notes it’s easy to edit them and play around with font size and spacing until the optimum layout is achieved.

Don’t use BLOCK CAPITALS. They are harder to read because of the universal height and similar shape of them. With sentence case (lower case except for the first letter) the variations in height make it easier to recognise common words by their shape.

As a result, they can be scanned more easily.

Of course, to make it easier to scan your notes, a large font is a good idea!

How to create speech notes - a review

As with all aspects of speaking, the more time you spend practising and making adjustments as a result, the better your presentation will be.

If you are still struggling to put your presentation together, our post on overcoming speech writer’s block could be helpful.

For a different perspective on speech notes, you may find this article by Andrew Dlurgan interesting.

This post was last updated 15th November 2023



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