Cue Cards

January 5, 2010

Cue Cards or confidence cards as they are sometimes known, are 5’ x 3’ postcards or index cards, which contain pointers to remind you what you are talking about.  Most novices will use some sort of cue cards but as they gain in experience, they think they are too experienced to be using cue cards.  Believing that by using cue cards, they are showing themselves up as not knowing what they are talking about.

Nothing could be further from the truth, using cue cards shows that you care.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a reminder of the main points of your presentation or ensuring that you get the facts and figures right.

Cue cards should be created once you are happy with the structure and content of your talk. As an alternative to using cue cards, Microsoft PowerPoint provides a presenter’s view facility using multiple monitors.  The cue card information can be displayed on the presenter’s monitor.

Do not try to write out the presentation verbatim on small cards, it will not work for a variety of reasons:

  • Firstly, we don’t usually write how we talk.
  • Secondly, if you write small enough to get it on you will not be able to read it.
  • Thirdly, it is very easy to lose your place in narrative text, especially if you have stopped following the text and then need a reminder of what to say next.

What you should put on the card is:

  • The opening statement for this part of the talk (an English phrase not a bullet point)
  • The main bullet points (max 5)
  • Any facts, figures or quotations to ensure that you get them right
  • What is coming next
  • The card number
  • Write on one side only!

By putting the opening statement on the card it will get you over the mental block of ‘what am I going to say’ which most often hits at the start of a topic or speech.

Usually, if you have practised your presentation enough, once you say the opening phrase the rest will follow.

The bullet points should just be keywords to remind you what to say.  Ideally, this should be 3 and preferably no more than 5 bullet points on one card.

You can also put on the card any key facts, names, figures or quotations that you want to ensure you get right.  If you have too much information to write on a single card, do not be tempted to write on the back, use an extra card.

At the bottom right of the card, write a clue to what is coming next.  This will help you to provide a smooth transition between cards.  This is especially important if you have one cue card for each slide in a presentation.

One of the most common faults in presentations where people use PowerPoint slides or similar is that they use the PowerPoint slide as their cue cards.  This has two serious disadvantages: The PowerPoint slides are often just the textual bullet points, they are not visual aids in the true meaning of the phrase, i.e. they are not very visually appealing and as such, they do not fulfil their role. 

Secondly, people then tend to split their talk into slide size sections.  The effect of this is that they talk to each slide.  When a new slide comes up, they turn to look at the screen, ignoring the audience, pause while they read it and then start talking again.  There is the added tendency to end up repeating exactly what it says on the slide.  As the audience have already read those words, you are not adding anything new as a presenter.

Slides are supposed to be illustrations to back up your point.  It is more effective to introduce the topic of the next slide while the previous one is still on display and then once you have started to talk about the topic bring up the slide.  This way the slides are much more of a visual aid, rather than being the subject of the talk.

The final item you can add to a cue card is the time it should be when you start that card.  This will help you to pace your presentation and give you an early warning if you are in danger of overrunning.  I recommend writing the actual time, rather than the number of minutes in, as this will save you having to do the mental arithmetic while you are presenting.  This assumes you know exactly what time the presentation will start. Only write the time on about 3 cards. Half way through, 3/4 of the way through and then 2 minutes before you are due to finish. Writing the time on every card and you will end up ignoring it completely.

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