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Why your presentation notes are crucial to your success


You’ve been asked to present to an important audience – and you feel nervous.

Nervous that you’ll stumble.

Nervous that you’ll lose your place.

Nervous that you’ll look a fool.

So what do you do?

How do your organise your presentation notes to give you the best chance of success?

The goal of this blog is to give you confidence by sharing three different techniques to writing effective presentation notes.

The normal approach

Effective presentation notes scotland Powerpoint.

Most people retreat into an area of comfort: Powerpoint.

They hide behind a list of bullet points, using the audio-visual tool as a crutch to lean on, so they won’t forget the place.

And lo and behold – they get through it.

They survive.

But what is the audience thinking?

Is an endless list of bullet points, alongside full-screen graphics, really working for them?

Are they going to rush up to you afterwards and say:

“Slide nine – it was glorious!”

It’s unlikely.

So our first rule is simple:

Only use audio-visual material if it enhances what you have to say.

Instead of makes your notes public, keep them private.

Instead of looking at your screen, look at your audience.

Instead of making your presentation ordinary, make it memorable.

The whites of people’s eyes

Effective presentation notes scotland Audience.

Good, you’ve ditched the unnecessary slides and slimmed your Powerpoint down to images only.

Or even better, you’ve ditched the tool altogether.

Now the magic can begin, as you remove the barrier between you and the audience – and your eyes meet theirs.

Your notes

Let’s be clear.

There are two presentations going on.

The presentation from you to the audience – and of you to yourself.

The way you present your notes to yourself can make or break the presentation.

As presentation skills trainers, we’ve seen it all.

Here’s an example of how most people start:

The full text

Effective presentation notes scotland ditch full notes.

By writing your notes in full, you’re giving yourself an extremely difficult task.

You’re attempting to engage your audience while pouring over every single word you’ve written – and berating yourself if you get one word wrong.

So ditch the full text and shorten your notes.

Here are some approaches to consider:








Option One: bullet points

Effective presentation notes scotland bullet points.

Maya Angelou told us:

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel

So make your structure more flexible.

After writing your presentation in full, reduce that to bullet points of one word or one phrase.

If you’ve made your presentation interesting and visual by using examples, this will help hugely with your notes.

For example, if I was standing up making a point about why Scottish industry has benefited from investment into stem cell research, I could write either of the following bullet points:

  1. “Stem cell research investment”
  2. “Benefit to Scottish industry”
  3. “Dolly the Sheep”

The advantage of 3) is that it’s visual.

Instantly, you’re telling a story.

Stories animate us and engage the audience.

They give us confidence, as we know the gist of the story and feel comfortable telling it.

With 1) and 2) you’re attempting to recall abstract concepts.

And the brain struggles with abstracts – it prefers visuals.

Avoid sub-points underneath your main bullet points, as you’ll find these distracting.

Instead, trust yourself to link the main points together, building eye contact and making the audience feel good.

Option Two: half and half

Effective presentation notes scotland halfway house.

Ok, so you’re worried about ditching the script altogether.

You worry that you might, for example, like Ed Miliband, forget to mention a major point.

Or like Michael Bay, you crumble altogether and have to exit the stage.

So here’s a different approach, a half-way house.

Create bullet points and place these next to your full script.

If at any point you forget the thrust of your point, you can refer back to your script for reassurance.

I’ve used this a number of times and it works well.

It gives you confidence, which improves your body language and helps create that rapport with your audience.

Option Three: autocue

effective presentation note scotland marjorie kenny.

Autocue is a skill that few master, and many struggle with.

We often refer to Powerpoint as ‘reverse autocue’, as you share your script with the audience, which now races you to the end of the slide as you plod your way through.

Autocue has the beauty of helping you maintain eye contact while having the entire script at your fingertips.

If you have the technology, give it a go.

Here are some things to remember:

  1. Take it slow, so the audience hears and digests every word
  2. De-formalise the language to write for the ear (e.g. “I will” becomes “I’ll”)
  3. Practise, practise, practise, until you get the speed and flow just right

…and I’m feeling good

Whatever option you use, regular practice is key to the whole thing.

Start with the script, reduce it and reduce it until you feel comfortable.

Now work on the pace, the tone and your body language.

And remember – it’s all about making the audience feel good.

Andrew McFarlan is a Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit: ivanlanin via / CC BY-SA; MDGovpics via / CC BY; MDGovpics via / CC BY

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