How to use notes AND look at your audience

When people read from notes during a conference presentation it doesn’t make for the most exciting address. You don’t feel a connection, their voice gets monotonous, and it’s hard to pay attention.

“I could have just read the paper”, you might think.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with notes – but almost everyone ends up reading them. Here are 4 tips for using notes more effectively for engaging presentations. These were inspired by watching Annabel Crabb live at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit.

1. Ask if a blog post or podcast would be better
If you’re going to read your notes, would a podcast or blog post be more effective? These can reach thousands of people and be archived for later use. If you decide you do really need to speak live, a blog post or recording can capture some of your points as ‘pre-reading’ or followup to compliment your talk.

2. Don’t use notes “just in case”
Plenty of high-profile speaker use notes (Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are two great examples). If it will help you give a better talk, you are allowed to have notes too. But if you say you want your script “just in case I lose my spot”, I find this generally doesn’t work. As soon as a speaker with a script in her hand loses her place and looks down, she starts reading and becomes reliant on those notes. Instead: make a conscious decision to use notes or not to use them, and rehearse appropriately.

3. Train yourself out of vague glances to the audience
You learned in highschool that it was important to look up at your audience. It is. But you may have noticed how often speakers gaze around the room without really taking anything in.  This serves no purpose because you don’t connect with the audience. In fact, this kind of audience “vague-ing” can have the opposite effect: it takes you away from your notes, making you rely on them further and exacerbating “reading voice”.

4. Look at your audience intentionally to take them in – then read
Annabel Crabb was MC at this year’s Women in Mining WA Summit and relied heavily on notes, as she does in many of her interviews – for good reason. But Annabel did not use reading voice or vague glances at the audience. Instead, she looked intensely at her audience in the pauses. Her gaze was intentional, and long enough to feel she had seen us. She then began to read. We always felt she was there for us.

When you address a crowd, remember that what you are doing is first and foremost for your audience. Connect with them, and their energy will fuel you, igniting you to give even more.

Read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

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Speaker | Coach | Founder of Yoga for Pain Care Australia

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