With the folks I coach, it seems that many believe looking at notes is a bad thing for a speaker to do. People try all sorts of sly ways to get around pausing to look at their notes: from furtive glances to drive bys to strategic placement of cue cards.
I’ve found that it really isn’t an issue. There are very few instances when a speaker won’t be given a pass for taking a second or two to collect his/her thoughts. The audience WANTS the material to be clear and organized well. And most appreciate the pause and a chance to collect their thoughts.
The problem is compound by the notes that people take on stage. People try to write War and Peace on notecards and pages. This becomes a huge issue on stage because they can’t find their place. The solution for experienced speakers (those who do it regularly) is to adopt a standard structure to your notes, so the same things (like major points, examples, quotes) are in the same place and look the same. For folks who speak infrequently, it’s about keying thoughts. Use trigger words — something to get your mind going.
The rookie mistake is to write out sentences and whole thoughts. In the moment of truth, you WILL try to read them, and it WON’T come across natural. Find the thought; formulate the sentence; deliver the words.
When it’s time to look at the notes, pause and don’t speak to the notes — EVER. Read what you have to read, then reconnect with the audience and deliver. Amazingly enough, you’ll have more attention that way than if you read your notes. People want to connect with a speaker, not be read to.
Use notes. Use them effectively.