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Best Practices for Using Speaker Notes in a Presentation

Learn how to use speaker notes to your advantage and make your next presentation even more impactful.
Taylor Risner
Taylor Risner
|
Director of Ops at Superchart
December 15, 2022
Improve Your Presentation Skills with Best Practices for Using Speaker Notes in a Presentation
"The way something is presented will define the way you react to it." - Deville Brody

Delivering presentations in front of an audience is one of the most common fears shared across the world. Whether you’re presenting a proposal to a single client, a project to your peers, or you are a keynote speaker for a massive conference, the reality is that public speaking can be nerve-wracking. The good news is that there are several strategies to mitigate this fear, boost your confidence, and increase your chances of delivering an engaging presentation, guaranteed to captivate your audience.

One strategy to deliver effective presentations is utilizing the power of speaker notes. We’ve built hundreds of decks and understand just how much work goes into the preparation process. After putting in the hours to craft the narrative, build the deck, and rehearse the presentation, the audience must reap the benefit of all those efforts. Using speaker notes in your presentation is an excellent way to come prepared, engage with your audience, deliver a compelling message, and ensure that your hard work translates to value.

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of speaker notes and outline some best practices for you to apply when building your decks.

What are Speaker Notes?

Speaker notes are quite simply what their name suggests. They’re notes to help presenters recall important speaking points when giving a presentation. Think index cards but in digital form.

Speaking notes are only visible to speakers and not the audience and are typically located beneath or to the side of the core presentation content. The notes are tied to specific slides, so as you flip through your presentation, the notes will change accordingly. Some examples of content typically included in speaker notes include key statistics, prompts for stories, clues for transitions or co-presenters, and additional context to help convey important points.

Good speaker notes provide guidance, support, and structure to ensure that the speaker can stay on track and cover all relevant information. Good speaker notes should contain a clear structure, use succinct language, and be detailed enough for the speaker to recall them easily without being overwhelmingly long.

Long notes (where you're writing out every spoken word) have the opposite effect. They detract from the speaker’s focus. They can ruin the cadence of the speaker and their connection to the audience. They should be bullet points for familiarity and really nothing more.

Some examples of speaker notes that have been effectively utilized in presentations include:

- Providing a list of key statistics or key points that need to be covered during the presentation

- Including prompts for stories, anecdotes, and other examples to illustrate your main points

- Offering cues or reminders for transitions between different parts of the presentation

- Providing additional context or background information for important points

If you are looking to deliver effective presentations, speaker notes can be an invaluable tool. By taking the time to carefully craft your speaker notes and using them as a guide during your presentation, you will be able to engage with your audience,

What are the Benefits of Using Speaker Notes?

"You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged." - Seth Godin

Your audience will either listen to you or read your slides. The goal is to get them to listen to you. This is accomplished by limiting the content on slides to only essential information.

Using speaker notes to capture the additional information helps your audience to focus on listening to you and for you to avoid coming off as inauthentic, like reading a script.

Better Engage Your Audience

One of the best ways to engage your audience is through maximizing eye contact. Eye contact helps lock in listeners’ attention and helps the speaker read visual cues. By using speaking notes to capture the main ideas to touch on, speakers can avoid reading slides word for word. This frees up their attention to connect with the audience, read visual cues, and most importantly, allows the audience to focus on listening to what they have to say.

Deliver a More Compelling Message

Speaking notes serve as a powerful tool to add additional value to your narrative. Graphics, metrics, videos, and other content cannot and should not convey all of the information that is important to understanding the story. By placing extra contextual information in speaking notes, you can shed more light on the real story behind the content and again, force the audience to listen to you vs. reading slides.

Stories are also a proven way to grab your audience’s attention and help them relate to your message. Speaking notes are a perfect tool to place notes for yourself on when to insert a reminder for a powerful story.

Perhaps the most obvious way to use speaking notes to deliver a great presentation is to use them to keep your place and train of thought. Too often, presenters get nervous, lose their train of thought, and go blank during the presentation. This damage to confidence and credibility can be easily avoided by having speaker notes available to fall back on.

Be Prepared

Presentations often lead to the need for questions or leave behind materials. Speaking notes can serve as an excellent reference to help answer questions that inevitably get asked about information that wasn’t visible on the slide. Coming prepared with notes to help answer these questions can help to maintain your credibility even after the presentation.

The notes can also be incredibly helpful in producing a leave-behind version of your deck. The extra information and context will go a long way in helping readers remember the narrative that was discussed that can’t be inferred from the slide content.

In more complex presentations, such as when you’re co-presenting with others, speaker notes can be an effective tool to include slide directions. You can prepare by leaving clues for yourself and others on how to transition between slides, what is coming up next, and who is speaking on what points.

Best Practices for Using Speaker Notes

"Grasp the subject, the words will follow." - Cato the Elder

We’ve discussed the benefits of speaker notes, but the real power is understanding how to apply them. Here are a few of our helpful tips that you can reference when creating speaker notes for your presentations.

Be Brief

The space to view your notes will be limited so you need to use the space wisely. It’s best practice to capture no more than 1 to 2 main ideas per slide and then you can add a few supporting notes per idea. Focus on writing down keywords and phrases and avoid including full sentences. Bullet points tend to be far more effective than writing details out word for word.

Being brief forces speakers to craft the narrative in their minds and use the notes for supporting details and context. Don’t forget to practice your speech and focus your attention on the audience, not your notes.

example of speaker notes for a revenue slide
Example of Speaker Notes - Supporting Reminders

Add Clues and Key Stats

In addition to helping outline your speaking points, speaking notes can serve as a helpful reference for key stats, transitions, instructions, and other reminders. You can best equip yourself by adding in clues such as who’s speaking next, who’s touching on which points, what’s coming on the next slide, what key stats may help in answering questions, and so on. Do your best to anticipate what questions may get asked and what challenges can be offset with information placed in the notes.

Be Brief, Be Prepared, Be Remembered

The idea of speaker notes may seem overwhelmingly simple, but they’re often overlooked and misused. If used improperly, they can negatively impact your presentation. But if used correctly, you will be prepared to deliver a confident, engaging presentation to remember.

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