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Using Notes in a Speech

by Ron Kurtus (updated 24 November 2022)

If a speaker has memorized a speech or is a person with the "gift of gab" and can speak on a topic extemporaneously, he or she will not need to refer to notes or script.

For the rest of us, notes are useful, necessary and acceptable--if used properly.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Using a script

The speaker who reads a speech from a script and never looks up at the audience can be boring. Often the feeling from the audience is, "Why not give me the script and let me read it at my leisure?"

In such a situation, the speaker should be well prepared and know the material thoroughly, only using the script as a guide. Key words can be highlighted to facilitate the process. Key contact with the audience--even if only occasionally--is important to an effective speech.

Politicians and officials speaking to large groups and a TV audience often use various forms of monitors to allow them to read the speech and still look like they have eye contact with the audience. Some TV entertainers use cue cards help up behind the camera to guide them.

Using cards

A speaker in a less formal setting can use 3x5 cards to guide him or her through the speech. Usually, they contain a few key words that are easily seen with a simple glance. These are similar to the cue cards used by entertainers, except they are hand-held.

The speaker may hold a stack of cards and subtly go through them as he or she goes through the speech. Often the cards aren't even looked at, but provide a safety net for loss of concentration.

Visual aids

A speaking giving a presentation with overhead slides or a video projector can use the slides as a guide for the talk. Three to five bullets on a screen stimulate the memory and allow for elaboration.


A speaker can use a script, provided he or she doesn't obviously read the material and not look at the audience. Holding small cards with key words on them, and just glancing at them when needed is a good way to keep track of material and not look unprepared. Using visual aids as a guide is effective in presentations.

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