I think people put a lot of extra pressure on themselves when preparing for a speech or presentation. They see people on television and other leaders give such polished talks that seem so easy and natural. They might have friends who just seem to shine easily when called up to speak in public. Then they set these high expectations for themselves which causes even more anxiety. For those who have a legitimate fear of public speaking, it doesn’t seem fair, does it? Just remember – you’re not them and you do not need to be perfect.
A few notables first. Most of these polished speeches are very prepared, with the presenter spending hours or even days rehearsing and tweaking the flow of words, inflections, and intonations to get the delivery just right. These folks are giving talks or presentations constantly, so they can rely on a wealth of experience and probably have seen every situation out there. If you were forced to give a speech or two in public every day, it would help desensitize your public speaking anxiety, no matter how bad it is. Finally, as unfair as it seems, yes, many people simply aren’t fazed by public speaking or even crave center stage. I have at least two friends who are fantastic public speakers, even when completely unprepared. They just have no natural anxiety regarding public speaking and the words flow very naturally for them.
One thing that I believe can help a lot of people is to make use of notes when giving a talk or presentation. I’ve seen people freeze or become nervous wrecks because they tried to memorize their speech – something goes wrong and their mind goes blank. Fight that urge to present yourself as a perfect speaker – if having some notes or cues helps improve your delivery or reduces your anxiety, go for it. Over time, there are other techniques you can use to deliver a speech without notes (if you really want to develop your presentation skills). However, we’re talking about techniques that will help reduce your anxiety, not increase it!
There is plenty of literature out there implying that having notes during your speech is a negative. I agree it looks bad if you’re just *reading* right off a note sheet, but having one with you to cue topics or major talking points is fine. At least, I’ve never thought this was a negative, I simply judge the content. In fact, two of the better speakers I have seen used notecards.
- The first was a Vice President of Sales for a well-known manufacturing company – he gave a local talk about the company sales strategy. He even said he just jotted a few ideas down to discuss on his flight over but it was one of the most dynamic and engaging talks I had heard in some time. Of course, he was the head of sales for a Fortune 1000 company, so that is expected!
- The second was the president of a subsidiary for a different Fortune 100 company in the high technology sector. He was discussing the direction of the company and future technological innovations. A much different style than the person used in the first example (he incorporated a fair amount of humor), but just as effective and interesting.
The point being, yes, if these gentlemen can use a note sheet and be effective, so can you.
Now, what is the best way to use notecards or a notesheet during your talk? If you’re subject to high anxiety and prone to shaking hands, you probably don’t want to jot notes down on a single 8×11 piece of paper (see How to Stop a Shaky Voice or Trembling Hands), or that will worsen your situation and nerves. My suggestion (and what I have done) is to use an index card or fold up a regular sheet of paper into quarter size – it will have enough space to jot a few key notes and is small enough to not be a distraction.
If you’ll be sitting at a table or speaking behind a podium, it’s convenient to just place your notes in front of you. If you’re standing, you’ll obviously have to hold the notes in your hand. Regardless, remember the notes are there just as markers or cues, they should not contain your whole speech Only glance at them sporadically – i.e. when it’s time to move on to the next part of your speech. Hopefully, you have done enough preparation where the notes are just that extra confidence boost.
In summary, if you stress about what exactly you’ll say or worry about going blank, using notes for your speech is just fine – it may just push you from unsure to confident! Good luck.