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As virtual speakers or moderators, we are challenged by where to keep notes without compromising the focus on our audience through a camera lens. This blog post addresses six options you can consider as a guide to supporting you the best. You are not alone in wanting to see two to three bullets when you talk or help remember the questions you are about to ask.
Differentiate between notes for preparation and delivery
An earlier blog post addressed the development of talk tracks where speechwriters lay out a speech and offer speakers support in memorizing and rehearsing. These are great for preparing but not the best tool when delivering the message.
Delivery of a talk is a high adrenalin situation requiring 💯 % focus on the audience and the delivery. A reality where cues help you shift between topics and secure all planned points get covered. What your notes should support is one of the following formulations.
- A question
- A brief topic formulation
- 2-3 bullets on what to cover.
Screen integrated into your laptop computer
One option is to use your laptop screen for presenting notes and using a PowerPoint slide per topic you can flip through as you talk. This approach is closest to standing in a speaking pulpit with the laptop screen in front of you. Elaborate with different stand options that keep your eyes level with the camera.
The screen is often below the camera and can lead to a slight tilting of your head. A computer screen directly in front of you also works as a blue light source that can be disturbing. Avoid having the screen parallel to your face if you use glasses to avoid reflexes.
Large computer screen for notes
A larger screen is a good option for a few scenarios. In a larger studio setting close to the camera, when you have multiple speakers are talking. A second screen for a home office setup with notes on the screen at the side. Notes on a large screen combined with a center camera, with a lens in the middle of the screen.
This approach is often better than the laptop screen but with the same blue light limitations.
Your smartphone/tablet as a note keeper
An alternative is to place a smartphone or small tablet just below or above the camera. Easy to see with eyes still focused on the camera and using tools most of us already possess.
A slight drawback is that the smaller size requires you to flip notes as you talk—train to do small swipes during a presentation with your audience noticing.
Classic note cards on paper
Classic note cards are great for presenting without slides or for moderators. An excellent tool for moderators in virtual settings when you have the cameras focused on panelists and interviewees.
Notecards are best suited for backup or emergency support as a keynote speaker. Frequently dipping down into note cards for a few seconds turns you away from the audience too much.
Handwritten notes 📝 on a micro-whiteboard
If you are good at memorizing your talks, a small whiteboard might be sufficient for notes. I use this setup for keynotes, to support me in covering all points, and for questions when I moderate fireside chats. This approach is easy to tune just before recording and going live and focusing on keywords and flow rather than details.
Writing space is limited, and a few books come in handy to elevate the whiteboard as close to the camera as possible. If you struggle with a letter-sized whiteboard, a larger whiteboard exists the size of a large computer screen.
Teleprompter when you can’t memorize your talks
Many speakers see teleprompters as a tool for dull talks. But ask YouTubers, and you get a different answer. Teleprompter’s are great for quickly writing up your speech and recording without or very few rehearsals. The teleprompter sits over the camera, and your eyes are both on the audience and the text simultaneously.
Teleprompters use large cameras with an SLR type of lens. Working with teleprompters requires practicing to be familiar with the tool. Writing talk tracks for teleprompter is an art to writing the way you talk. A teleprompter will save you preparation time and cut cycle times from idea to delivery if used frequently.
Questions for you and your team
- Which note forms do you use today?
- What works well, and where do you want to improve?
- Which of the suggested approaches feels natural for the type of notes you need?
- Are you open to investing time into learning to work with a teleprompter?
Additional reading suggestions
- 5 great tools for organizing your presentation notes [BLOGPOST] – Presentation Training Institute
- The ten best technological tools for guest speakers [BLOGPPOST] – by Everwall
- How to use presenter notes for a natural delivery [BLOGPOST] – by Julie Hansen
- How to read from a script during digital presentations – without making it obvious [BLOGPOST] – by Casey Gale
- Where do I put my notes? [VIDEO] – by Diane Windingland, Virtual Speech Coach
- How do I use note cards during my presentation? [VIDEO] – by Shola Kaye
- How to use a teleprompter in Teams, Zoom, or Webex for FREE [VIDEO] – Giuliano de Luca
- Communicate better on Zoom. Keep eye contact with an on-screen Teleprompter [BLOGPOST] – By DemLabs
- How to use Microsft Words as a Teleprompter for your next Zoom [BLOGPOST] – by At Home with Tech