Speaker notes and why they matter

June 15, 2018 Koffi Alain Sessi

Speaker notes for most people represent an afterthought. The instinctive behavior is to just put the information on the slide and move to the next slide. They see this section of their presentations as a nice to have. However, for great speakers, presenter notes are essential to the performance. They play a centerpiece role in the approach to slide deck design that departs from the usual type-a-text-in-this-box kind of presentation design. Speaker notes provide a sectional and just-in-time map to the story the presenter wishes to share with the audience.

Many presentation gurus emphasize, with reason, the need to focus on the story. The most ubiquitous of recommendations consist in avoiding putting too much information on any given slide. This recommendation finds its roots in the distractions that a wall of text creates both for the audience and for the presenter. Speaker notes shine in this area particularly well. For example, if an idea has three or more sections, It’s almost always best to put the main idea on the slides and the bullet points in the speaker notes. Why would I give such an advice? I have three reasons for doing so.

Speaker notes are only visible to the speaker

Speaker notes are only visible to the presenter. The audience has no visibility into them. The presenter view allows the speaker to quickly glance at the screen to see where the story goes and what is the next crucial element. When there are no speaker notes, the audience does not know but it most often shows up in the delivery. Speaker notes provide one additional advantage. They allow the presenter to eliminate uncertainty, verbal flubs, inappropriate hesitations, and phrasing mistakes in the delivery.

Speaker notes make the presenter look competent

As a speaker goes through the presentation, there may be occasional instances in which hesitation becomes apparent. These instances are visible or perceivable in the forms of frequent verbal flubs and increased presence of filler words. The longer the presentation runs, the more numerous these occurrences become. By allowing the presenter to see which story is next, speaker notes serve as a protective noise gate that allows the most relevant information to flow freely to its intended audience.

Speaking fluently about a topic is a sign of command of the domain. We often hear people say after a presentation “This presenter knows his/her stuff.” Unless there is undeniable proof, we tend to trust in messages delivered with confidence and little hesitation. On the reverse side, even if true, information delivered with a less than confident voice produces doubt in the audience, regardless of whether the speaker is an expert or not. Speaker hesitation or uncertainty completely destroys the space required for a successful deployment of stories.

Speaker notes help create a space for the story

Without a story, a presentation would prove an exercise in a boring recitation of facts. I often argue that facts feel like the barren and unsightly skeleton of a building. They are important, even critical to the persuasion process. However, without stories, facts are mostly ineffective. You may be asking yourself how do speaker notes help me tell a story. They do so by allowing you to create space for the stories you wish to tell. We can all agree that when we tell the same story several times, we tend to do so with a slightly different phrasing each time. Speaker notes allow you to continue that practice. The last thing any presenter want is to sound mechanical and that’s exactly what happens if a story is repeated with the same exact words several times.

To wrap it up, speakers note are not optional for great presenters. If your goal is to join the elite club of people who deliver experiences instead of giving presentations, you owe it to yourself to start using the power of speaker notes. The more you use them, the better you will become at leveraging their power to serve your purpose.