Is it possible to give a good presentation even if you have to read your notes?


While it is harder to give a good presentation when reading your notes, it is entirely possible.

Last month, someone who was graduating from this Cohort of the Employ to Empower 10-week Development Program did a great presentation while reading notes on her phone. She has post concussion syndrome and needed to read. By starting with a story to get the audience’s attention and having slides with beautiful images, she did an awesome presentation.

Employ to Empower is a wonderful charity that help people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside develop their business ideas. Find out more about Employ to Empower here: Part of the graduation is for each of the graduating students to talk for 5 minutes about their business or business idea and then respond to questions for another 5 minutes. Making a public presentation like that was a very big step for several of those graduating.

We’ve all been to presentations where the presenter was reading from their notes. Generally, I recommend that my clients practice their presentations so that the presentations are inside them and they can converse with their audience. Check out some tips on how to do that in this article. That general advice does not work for all people.

There are many people, whether new presenters, presenters with brand new content, or presenters facing various challenges, who need to read their presentation.

What to do then?
Obviously, if you need to read your presentation, you will need notes, possibly with the entire text of your presentation. There are places you should put your notes and places you should not. How to handle notes varies depending on whether you are presenting online or in person.

Where not to put notes when presenting online
It is very important to be looking directly into the camera at least 30% of the time. Research shows your audience will remember more, if you do that.

  1. Above the camera. If you put your notes above the camera, you will be looking up. Your audience will be looking at your throat.
  2. Beside the camera or screen. If you put your notes to the side of your camera or screen, you will be looking to the side. Your audience will be looking at the side of your head.
  3. On the desk. If you put your notes down on your desk, you will be looking down. Your audience will be looking at the top of your head.

None of those are ideal.

So where should you put your notes when you are presenting online?
When you are presenting online, you want your notes as close to the camera as you can. If your camera is right above your screen, you notes can be on the screen. Make sure your notes are big enough that you can glance down and read them easily.

There are obviously different considerations if you are presenting in person.

Where not to put notes when presenting in person

  1. On the screen. You do not want to have your notes on the screen behind or beside you that your audience can see. There is nothing worse than turning your back on your audience to read from the screen. Your audience will likely be reading ahead (since if your notes are on the screen, they can read what you are reading).
  2. On the desk. Having your notes in front of you on the desk is definitely better than reading from the screen behind or beside you. The problem with having your notes on the desk, is that you will be looking down. Your in-person audience will see the top of your head. It will take more work to remember to look up and make eye contact.

So where do you put your notes when you are presenting in person?

When you are presenting in person, you want your notes in front of you at about chest level. You also want your notes to be large enough that you can quickly look at your notes and go back to looking at your audience. There are a couple of options. One is to have your notes on your phone. The other is to have your notes on cue cards.

You may be wondering how to know what is on the screen your audience sees, if you aren’t looking at it. You need to make sure that you are provided with what is called a “comfort or confidence monitor”. This is a video screen somewhere in front of you that you can easily see but your audience ideally doesn’t know is there. By using a comfort / confidence monitor, you know what your audience is seeing without having to turn around and look at the screen that your slides are being projected on.

To learn more about tips on how to give memorable presentations, even if you do have to read your notes, subscribe to my personal and business weekly email by sending an email to with the subject “Subscribe”.