This article is part 3 of a series using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. Speakers who create brief stage-notes are a step towards accomplishing good speaking skills, such as eye contact, flow, conversational tone, and more.

Making Good Speaking Notes

During my 35 years teaching public speaking classes, I developed 8-quickly applied tips using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. to improve public speaking skills. We’ve already covered D= Distractions and ‘E’=Extemporaneous. One of the ways to accomplish E is to use good stage notes.

Below are the mistakes speakers with poorly constructed stage notes make:

  1. Poor eye contact. Most speakers look at their notes too much. Often note-cards contain inefficiently contain small print and require being held close during the presentation to see. Most speakers also mistakenly feel they “need” all these notes.
  2. Non-conversational tone. My last submission covered how an Extemporaneous (or conversational and natural) quality creates an expert-sounding and professional tone. The most unskilled way to deliver a speech is to READ it. Many speakers end up reading their speech because they give themselves too many notes.
  3. Lack of speech flow. Note cards provide only partial content view. Note switching is distracting and obvious. The audience could reduce your perceived credibility because you don’t know your own content.
  4. Not using “Imprinting”. Do you remember taking tests where you created notes you memorized? During the test, you close your eyes and ‘see’ the content. That is imprinting. You can use this visual memory tool if you create good notes and practice from them.

Let’s review the benefits using a system called Key Word Notes which has helped thousands of students avoid these note card pitfalls. Key Notes are easier to use notes. These should be just 1-2 pages of easy-to-see “trigger” words. If done right, you can proceed through your speech and gain your next content at a glance!


Notes cannot be done before you have a complete speech! Summary of the process:

  • Begin by practicing and perfecting your content, wording and timing.
  • Type a final content in outline form.
  • Copy and create a Key Word Outline separately.
  • Begin deleting everything but a few words per content-area that will trigger your memory.
  • Reduce your content into 1-2 pages.
  • Enlarge type so you can see it from an arms-length away. Your goal is to be able to glance down and get your key idea while maintaining eye contact.

Let’s review these tips in more detail:

  1. Create a full-outline base speech, then reduce it to Key Words. Create a new copy and start reducing it to key-notes. In your notes, I highly recommend you retain the original outline divisions for IMPRINTING (see earlier explanation) such as the intro, main points, sub-points, and conclusion.
  2. Identify your trigger Key-Words. Select 1-3 words that remind/trigger each key concept. Your goal is remembering your plan without having it all. The words do NOT have to be in the outline. For instance you know the joke’s key elements, but so your reminder might be “tell joke” vs. the joke’s wording. For instance, if I were to make a Key Note of this training, it might look like this example confined to 2 pages.
  3. Remove all sentences. Speaking notes are best if they contain only one-three words per section that trigger memory. The goal is maintaining maximum eye contact. If constructed well, you could even hide your note use. Any sentences or 3+ word fragments creates “congestion” (see below for more on that) which draws your eyes away from your audience.
  4. Never single-space. Double-spacing and triple- spacing to allow your information to stand out easily from an arms-length away.
  5. Enlarge enough to see from arms-length away with just a glance, make them larger, such as 14’-18’ font.
  6. TWO PAGES maximum. Your goal is two-fold: 1) see the entire presentation at one glance, and 2) hide their use by setting them side-by-side in front of you and not touch them again. If you feel you need more notes, move excess content into power-point (note that good powerpoint slides are be designed like Key Word Notes too!)
  7. Avoid “congested” areas, too much information too small to quickly see. I’ve created an example on my webpage.
  8. Differentiating your notes means making important content easily stand-out. Achieve this using bold, highlight, triple spacing, or use of occasional CAPS.

To summarize, start by typing the original speech. Rehearse until the speech meets the key purposes and fits allotted time. Once final, initiate a first draft Key Notes. Reduce it to 2 pages, double space, enlarge type and maintain the original outline structure. Differentiate it and check for congestion. Begin practicing only from the Key Notes, modifying till perfected in memory.


This article is part 3 of a series using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. Speakers who create brief stage-notes are a step towards accomplishing good speaking skills, such as eye contact, flow, conversational tone, and more. I look forward to hearing how this content helped you at The next element of D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y will be “L” = looking good.