You're getting on a plane and you see the pilot and co-pilot running through checklists. It doesn't mean they don't know how to fly the plane. They're just leaving nothing to chance. And neither should you when you want to communicate a clear and compelling message.
That’s why having a good set of notes is the key to success in any situation, whether a formal presentation, conference call, meeting… even a wedding speech.
The fact is that notes take all the pressure off. Because no longer have you got to worry about what to say; all you have to think about is how to say it. Notes free you up and enable your natural personality to come out. Notes also show that you’re prepared. They show the audience you take the topic - and them - seriously.
And remember that the more you know, the more you need notes. Don’t think that because you’re an expert on your topic you can just wing it! The problem with being in your comfort zone is the tendency to say way too much, to ramble and appear unfocused, even unsure of yourself. Notes keep you focused, concise and articulate, and make you appear more confident and authoritative.
So what do a good set of notes look like? It's a personal choice but my advice is not to use a script, unless you've been trained in how to deliver it naturally and conversationally. Plus it’ll probably be written in the written language, not the conversational language. One-word notes (‘conclude’, ‘introduction’) are also unhelpful as they're not telling you want to say and the order in which to say it.
My advice is to use abbreviated bullets; key phrases written in your own short-hand - that you can read in a split-second and know instantly the message you want to convey. Written in big font and printed one sided (turning pages can be distracting). Then when you present, all you need to do is add just enough words to make them into sentences. The words you use at the moment of speaking will be spontaneous, conversational, and entirely natural.
The key is to be disciplined and stick to your notes. If it's not in your notes, don't say it. Any pilot will tell you it’s not a good idea to fly off course.