Something as simple as the quality of your speaking notes can take your presentation from tentative to confident. While it may be easier to write a script, using notes with key words and phrases is more effective.

Why not use a script?  Unless you’re a trained actor or broadcaster, you’ll likely sound monotone if you read from a script. You’ll sound like you’re reading, not speaking, and will fail to establish a connection with your audience. 

Here are tips for writing speaking notes for yourself and others:

Phrases, Not Paragraphs

Break your presentation or speech into sections or key points. Your notes may include the flag phrases that begin each section, such as “Our focus as a company this year is ____” or “We’re seeing shift in ____.” Under each flag phrase or opening, you can jot down key facts, data or stories to trigger your memory.

One Thought Per Sentence

The most common mistake is using complex thoughts or sentences. The notes are written for the reader’s eye, not the spoken word. Even if the information is divided into dot-points, it’s too complicated to say aloud. Eliminate extra words and focus on the key phrases. This is especially important if you’re a public relations professional who writes speaking notes for executive leaders.


Include brief stories and quotes in your notes. If a section begins with a phrase such as “A customer told me…” or “My experience has been…” you’ll sound more natural and confident.


Large type and plenty of white space will allow you to read your notes easily while speaking. Mark-up your notes with underlining or bold type for the key points.

Empty your hands

I recommend that you leave your notes on a nearby table or lectern. My experience is that speakers rarely look at the notes when they hold the piece of paper. Instead, they clutch or wave the paper in a manner that’s distracting to the audience. If you need to hold your notes, use a stiff notebook or folder so that you can’t twist or fold the paper as you speak.

Practice Aloud

Give your speaking notes a “test drive” and practice aloud. You’ll quickly determine whether the notes are making you a more confident speaker or if they need another round of edits.

Questions? Contact Mimi Bliss at or 615-479-3656.


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