The pre-show rituals of singers can sometimes provide useful tips for aspiring speakers. Maybe the best was Elvis Presley and his “1000-yard walk”. When singing at a large venue, he insisted that his trailer was parked exactly 1000 yards from the stage. Continue reading


Video shows advantages of cue-cards

So you’re a speaker, preparing your next presentation. You’ve decided on, planned (and maybe scripted in full) your content. What next? What are the most useful speaker aids to help you remember what you’re going to say?

When I spoke recently at the Rotary Club of Bristol Bridge, this was one of the areas I discussed. I quoted Philip Collins (not the singer; this Philip was Tony Blair’s speech-writer) who said: “Don’t ditch the script. Very few people speak well off the cuff, though everybody thinks they can.” (I don’t agree that everybody thinks they can; but maybe he was talking about politicians.)

I said that I agreed with having the script there on the day; but only as a comfort-blanket. In my opinion there is nothing worse than hearing somebody read from their script.  I thought that nowadays that practice had died out; but I do occasionally see it; and it’s depressing.

In my opinion there is nothing worse than hearing a speaker reading from a script. My immediate reactions are: (a) “this is boring”; (b) “this speaker lacks confidence” and (c) “just give me a copy of your speech, because I can read it more quickly than you can speak it; and I’ll be able to select the bits that interest me, instead of listening to the whole thing.”

At that Rotary Club, I said that a good strategy was to memorise the start and finish of your presentation and to prepare aides-mémoire to guide you through the “meat” of the speech. So far, so good; but which type of aide-mémoire?

In the past I used cue-cards, with just a few key-words per card, and that’s a good method. But I said that I’d now switched to mind-maps in general. I therefore suggested trying both methods and adopting whichever suited one’s own style.

But there is at least one situation where cue-cards score better than mind-maps. That’s if there is nowhere to put your mind-map – no lectern or podium or table – and anyway, many experts say you should avoid such “props” anyway, as you can speak with more freedom and authority (and be able to move, which is valuable) if there’s nothing between you and the audience. In that situation, having those small cue cards which you can hold in your hand is clearly a good solution.

Are you familiar with the wonderful and varied TED talks? Many of the speakers there seem to use no aides-memoire at all; but that could be because they have an autocue, or they use their visual aids (PowerPoint etc) to guide them via easily-viewed monitors.

However, one very compelling TED speaker, Candy Chang, used cue-cards for her talk “Before I die …”:

What is interesting is that she doesn’t look at the cards often. You can notice at the end of the video that in front of her there are a couple of small monitor screens at floor level; they obviously repeat what’s on the big screen and thus help guide her speech; but when she wants to report someone else’s words (and therefore wants to get it 100% right) she looks at the card.

On the same principle, at that Rotary event I used a mind-map; but in two cases where I wanted to report someone else’s words, I used a cue-card.

For other useful input, see this blog post by Ben Decker, entitled “The Five Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make in Speaking”. Even if you are not a CEO, the “mistakes numbers 5, 4 and 3” are universal; and I liked that picture of the speaker and his typescript with last-minute handwritten alterations:



Book: “The Art of Speeches and Presentations; the secrets of making people remember what you say.” Philip Collins.

Book: “Mind Maps at Work; how to be the best at work and still have time to play.” Tony Buzan.

Link to the “Presentations” section of my website:



My public-speaking blog thread is relatively new, so it is an under-populated country at present; but that will change. This morning (13 Sept) I delivered a talk to the Rotary Club of Bristol Bridge. The title was: “Thinking on your feet”. It had a positive response, which confirmed my view that this is a topic of interest to many people and many organisations. Here’s a summary of the topics I covered:

  • “The lion story”. (Sorry, no room here: but it is a good one. Book me to speak at your club or business and you can hear it!).
  • My subtitle: “What make a good presentation?” (not “good presenter”, as even good ones sometimes underperform)
  • Kipling’s key questions: What, Why, When, How, Where & Who.
  • Where and When are already known (that’s part of the problem), which leaves:
    • What are you going to say?
    • To Whom are you going to say it? (what do you know about them?)
    • Why are you going to say it? (Type of presentation? Desired outcome/s?)
    • How are you going to say it? (“the $64,000 question”)
  • These basic questions produce 12 “elements of a good presentation.” We focused on three:
    • Knowing your audience in advance (the why and the how thereof)
    • Speaker aids / resources on the day
    • Confident delivery, how to achieve / develop
  • Backgrounds & expectations of listeners?
  • Expectations ditto? Is there a fit?
  • Meet the meeting arranger / facilitator?
  • Get attendee list: e-mail them with mini-survey: their wants and needs from your presentation.
  • Script: OK as comfort blanket and template for next time but …
  • Don’t read it!
  • Visual aids: helps re multiple learning styles
  • PowerPoint? Limit no. of slides & amount of info per slide
  • Cue cards: my previous default but use registry tag in case of drop!
  • Mind maps: now my default aide-memoire.
  • PA: can you avoid by better projection?
  • If can’t avoid PA (size of room / audience), avoid handheld microphones.
  • Strong start & strong finish; memorise both, use cue-cards and /or mind maps for the “meat” in the sandwich.
  • Stress management, create positive expectations via two methods of visualisation:
    • Muhammad Ali and “future history”
    • NLP: method of “anchoring” positive past experiences
  • Move, and focus on audience, while speaking: both help reduce tension
  • Improvisation skills? If not, rehearse rehearse rehearse!
  • Last-minute prep: can we learn from other types performers (When and Where are known)? e.g. popular singers: Chris Martin, Stevie Nicks, Robert Plant, Leonard Cohen; finally …
  • Elvis Presley and the thousand-yard walk
  • Arrive early; set up resources; ensure water available; walk round the block.

Last word: “Most people will forget what you say; even what you do. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” How will you use that fact? How will you inject feeling, not just facts?

WANT TO KNOW MORE? If you ‘d like more information about my talks, or would like to discuss booking me for your organisation, please send me a message through this site or e-mail me: