One of the challenges with public speaking students is teaching them to design and use effective notecards. I had one colleague who would “inspect” the students’ notecards minutes before their speeches and seize any cards that he deemed too wordy. His students were bringing in cards with only 4-5 words each and he claimed that his speeches were getting better. I don’t use such a harsh method, but I do tell the students that story.
For the first major speech, I collect their notecards after the speech and then factor them into the speech grade. This gives me a chance to send a message to those who do not follow the rules and it gives me an opportunity to provide suggestions to those who are trying. After the first speech, I am trusting them (not checking their cards again) because it is not difficult to spot problems after that point and address them in the speech delivery points.
I tell the students to think of their notecards as an art project. Here are the rules that I give:
Use key words only, no sentences
- Fewer than 25 words per card
- Drop minor words
Visually organize the cards
- Keep and simplify the outline format
- Use size, space, symbols and colors
Include important details
- Source and visual reminders
- Parts of introduction, conclusion and transitions
- Consider delivery reminders
I also provide both a checklist and sample cards
at the class web site.