Encouraging effective notecards

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.

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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

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