Many presentations with excellent content are less effective because the speaker uses notes that are either too skimpy or that contain every word of the speech. Properly used, note cards become what I call confidence cards: They add to a smooth delivery by helping speakers get from one main point to the next. Acting as cues, they contain your speech outline, notes to yourself, stories you will need to tell, key points and phrases, and reminders where to use your visual aids—anything and everything that will help you. And they save speakers from their greatest fear: forgetting what they're going to say next.
These cards—whether 3 x 5 inches or 4 x 6 inches—are easy to hold, don't rattle or shake the way larger papers do, and give an air of professionalism and preparation to your presentation. They are extensions of your own style because they only outline your speech, forcing you to talk in your own words. They also give you something to do with your hands. But you still need to practice your speech many times using the cards, or else you'll tend to go over the time limit or get off track.
Remember the following key points when using confidence cards:
Write so that you can see your information easily.
Make only short, key statements that will trigger your memory.
Number the cards once you have them all, to protect yourself from chaos if they fall off the lectern. Also, you may need to shorten your speech at the last minute, and you can do that by simply removing a few cards. If they are numbered you know just where you are at all times. To help you make last-minute decisions, try color-coding the ones you can eliminate if you need to.
Never read from the card. Glance at your notes and then speak to the audience to retain eye contact.
Note on the cards which visual aids you are using to develop the key points.
As you go through your note cards in your practice sessions, write little reminders on them: where you want to pause, where you want to smile, and so on. If you have trouble remembering to look around at the whole audience, you can use a card to remind yourself to take in all sides of the room. Confidence cards make excellent security blankets; don't hesitate to rely on them.
Confidence cards don't have to be actual cards. I've seen excellent speakers use a clip board. When I'm conducting workshops, I use a loose-leaf notebook that holds my script, which I place on a table in front of me and refer to from time to time. The purpose is to give you that confident edge and to help keep you on track.