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If the key to success in almost any endeavor is preparation, what kind of notes work best when you speak? Well, neat, clear and complete notes give you the best chance of success, but it really comes down to what works best for you. Let’s look at some great options.

The 3×5 Card: If you are speaking and you need more than a 3×5 card or two, you are probably covering too much ground! The classic 3×5 card with three or four bold, clearly written bullet points should do the job for you. When you speak you should have an obvious path of pretty easy-to-grasp ideas to engage the audience. Often your notes can tell you if you are trying to say too much! And if your topic is a tough one, it is your job to make it easier to grasp – that’s why you are in front of the room.

Key Sentences: A sheet or card with key sentences often works well, especially if you sometimes struggle to remember parts of your speech. The key sentences jog your memory and remind you how you wanted to express important thoughts. As you practice and prepare you’ll notice certain phrases just work better, and sometimes it pays to have them down word-for-word.

The most important point here is to not let this system morph into pages and pages of notes that having you reading your presentation. Notes are meant as just that, notes. This is not a manuscript you read from with your head down 95% of the time!

Power Point: Many speakers simply use the Power Point as their prompt. Often it sounds something like this, “Okay, so, moving on here. Let’s see…oh, yea. The next point I wanted to make is…” Yuck! If Power Point is your road map that’s fine, but you have to be very familiar with the slides so you can smoothly move from point to point. If you sound just as confused as the audience, that’s a problem!

Media Interviews: Notes are great here, but just don’t pull them out in the middle of a Today Show interview! What I mean is you can prep some notes, know your key messages, practice, but you can’t pull your notes out during an interview without doing serious damage to your credibility. (The question becomes, “Do you know this stuff or are you faking it?”)
Phone interviews work great with notes, of course, and you can even refer to your notes at the end of a taped interview to make sure you covered the ground you wanted to, but generally the media is looking to you as an expert and the expectation is an expert doesn’t need notes.

Finally, experiment with your note process when you are called upon to speak. You’ll find the system which works best for you. The overall goal is to work with notes that keep you on track, provide the material you need to stay focused, but at the same time not look like you are distracted.

I hope you have had a good summer and please shoot me a note if you have questions or thoughts about the Monthly Memo! I am always reachable –

Please follow along through the month @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: