Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am wondering whether it looks odd if a speaker reads notes during a presentation? I am asking this because, I noticed that a few presenters can’t present their work or research well due to nervousness and other factors such as language, pronunciation etc.

So if a speaker makes notes and just reads them properly along with the slides, how will it look? Will audiences accept or criticise such presentations?

How will it be if the speaker speaks by him/herself, but he/she will look into the notes at necessary?

share|improve this question
16  
What is your field? I have made the experience that in technical and science subjects, this is commonly looked down upon, whereas in fields such as philosophy, it seems to be the preferred way (from what I have been told, because the exact choice of words planned beforehand by the author is considered one of the crucial aspects of the talk, rather than showing ad-hoc mastery of the topic). – O. R. Mapper Mar 12 at 10:27
    
Yes, I am agree with you @O.R.Mapper.. I am talking about the field of Atmosphere, where many proper wordings are necessary to address the originality of one's work. Would like to comment anything more. – Kayan Mar 12 at 14:14
    
Join Toastmasters. – TRiG Mar 14 at 13:06

10 Answers 10

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Twenty years ago it was not at all uncommon at international conferences in physics and electrical engineering to attend at "read" presentations, especially from old researchers from Asian countries, who were not used to speak English.

How was it? Boring, utterly boring, and audiences drifted away. Please don't do or suggest it: if you feel uncomfortable speaking, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

share|improve this answer
1  
I don't think 'presentations by asians who were not used to speak English were boring' leads to '(all) presentations which are read are boring'. The skill to deliver a presentation/speech well is totally seperate from how perfectly you remember each word. – David Mulder Mar 12 at 16:46
5  
@DavidMulder I reported that the presentations were from Asians just because that was really the situation at the time, but the main point is that those presentations were read, and because of that those were boring. Even imagining more brilliant speakers, I can't get excited about read presentations. When I was a student I also attended a few read lectures in the humanities, in my language, and I wouldn't consider those appealing either. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 12 at 17:02
37  
Now the trend has changed to read bulletpoints directly from the Powerpoint. Equally boring, and done by people with all sorts of levels of language and experience. – Davidmh Mar 12 at 20:09
3  
@Davidmh: It can get worse: I've seen people put a pdf with the notes (not a presentation) on the screen and read that. Awful. – tomasz Mar 13 at 19:41
    
I suspect "a good presentation" is culture specific. – emory Mar 14 at 1:37

So if a speaker makes notes and just reads them properly along with the slides, how will it look? Will audiences accept or criticise such presentations?

It will not leave the best impression, but you will survive it.

The biggest problem, however, is the word properly: Reading a talk or speech in a manner that is equivalent to ad-libbing is an art of its own and if you have mastered it, you usually do not need it anymore (unless you are a politician, actor or similar). If you have no experience in this manner and are nervous on top, you will almost certainly make frequent mistakes with respect to emphasis, tone and rhythm, usually by losing them altogether. This will make it difficult for the audience to follow your talk and very likely be worse than trying to give a regular talk.

Another problem that writing a talk is not as simple as it may seem, as spoken language crucially differs from written one: Sentences are shorter and simpler; certain grammatical constructions only work well in written language; other aspects are exclusive to spoken language and essential for a good talk. A simple example for the latter is using the word here and pointing at the proper part of the projection.

Here is roughly what I recommend:

  • Learn the first one or two sentence of your talk by heart and memorise important aspects of the next few ones. This should give you a safe start and way to cope with your nervousness. What is important is that you have a smooth transition from fully memorised sentences to ad-libbing. If you don’t, you may get stuck at the transition point.

  • Rehearse early and often. This way you can spot difficult passages and prepare ways to master them, e.g., make mental notes on how to do a transition, look up vocabulary that you lack, and so on.

    After a few runs, rehearse in front of an audience that can give you some feedback – even if it’s your ten-year old brother who does not understand a word you are saying and can only comment on the impression you are leaving (an audience that can give you feedback on the content is better though). This also forces you to rehearse the actual talk situation and makes you avoid starting all over on a regular basis. Most importantly, rehearsing is one of the best wards against nervousness.

    Mind you: rehearse not memorise entirely. A talk that is entirely recited from memory is as bad as a talk that is entirely read from notes.

  • Learn to use your slides as a memory aid. Avoid putting full sentences on slides, because you may read them out during your talk (and your audience does not want to read full sentences either).

I am talking about the field of Atmosphere, where many proper wordings are necessary to address the originality of one's work.

I am not in your field, but I am skeptical that this extends beyond using the proper vocabulary and keywords – which you can put on your slides as a memory aid and to tell your audience about them in case you forget to mention them.

share|improve this answer

At least in my field, mathematics, in the U.S. (and probably western Europe) it is stylistically quite undesirable to read from slides, because it makes a person look as though they haven't really assimilated the material. For that matter, I've occasionally wondered who actually wrote those slides that the speaker treats as mysterious, surprising, or baffling.

On the other hand, there are indeed possibly even-worse failures, such as becoming completely tongue-tied, incoherent, panic-attacked, etc. But this scenario won't make a good impression on anyone, in any case.

If one's command of the relevant language is so minimal that one can do no better than to read the slides... it still may be better to not read all the slides, but just emphasize the high points, rather than look a bit silly. After all, people can/will read the slides themselves.

In particular, ideally, the audio portion complements the video. They are different mediums. Formulas are best displayed, not spoken. Complicated English (or other) sentences are best spoken, not filling up a slide with small print that makes people squint to read it... Graphics go on slides...

share|improve this answer
11  
I don't think reading from slides makes the person look as though they haven't mastered the material. I always thought (and my own experience reflects this) that reading from slides is bad because (1) it's boring, and (2) it makes the speaker fairly useless. If you're going to read from slides, you might as well just put the slides up and let the audience read them on their own - but then again there's little point in doing that when you could just hand out copies of a printed article. I do quite like the advice in your last paragraph. – David Z Mar 12 at 20:22
2  
@DavidZ, if it's a job-oriented talk, and the speaker "reads", it does make me wonder whether they really know what's in the slides. I approximately interpret need-to-read as some sort of inexperience and/or incompetence. There's no upside. It is also boring, but that's just anti-icing on the anti-cake. – paul garrett Mar 12 at 20:30
1  
I agree with paul that reading from the slides can create the impression (e.g. in me) that the speaker has not mastered the material. I don't know whether this is particular to mathematics or not, but one feature of math is that it is so vast and technical that virtually everyone has things that they don't understand as well as they want to that are of some relevance to what they're presenting. Some people seem to deal with this by looking up tricky definitions and results and placing them in the slides, then seeming dismayed when they get asked questions about them. – Pete L. Clark Mar 12 at 21:58
2  
I should add that I have seen a few absolutely top mathematicians, including one Fields Medalist, give talks where they only read from slides. I did not at all get the impression that these people didn't know what they were talking about; it was only boring and disappointing, making their talk somewhat pointless. There's something for those reading from their slides to aspire to! – Pete L. Clark Mar 12 at 22:00
1  
@Dirk, ah, indeed, if such is necessary. Still, practicing the intonation so that it doesn't sound wooden or stilted or unfeeling is advisable/necessary, or it'll achieve a similar (bad) effect. – paul garrett Mar 12 at 23:33

I'm in mathematics and I don't think I've ever seen a speaker in a math lecture read directly from prepared notes. I have seen many speakers read from their slides, and like Paul Garrett (and for precisely the reasons he explained) I think this is a bad practice and should be avoided at all costs.

As for reading from paper notes you prepare in advance, while highly unusual for technical talks, if anything this would be less bad than reading from your slides, but whether this is a reasonable idea or not really depends on the execution. Some orators can deliver an amazing speech when reading from a teleprompter or written notes, but most of us who don't have extensive training in this particular artform will probably end up giving a rather dry, boring presentation if we try reading from notes.

My thinking on this can be summarized with the saying you can't beat the system. Giving an effective and engaging presentation, whatever your chosen mode of delivery, requires a combination of several skills:

  1. A good level of fluency in, and mastery of, the language you are presenting in.

  2. Good pronunciation, articulation, and voice projection.

  3. A high level of mastery of the specific skills pertaining to your chosen mode of presentation (e.g., good blackboard technique for a blackboard talk; good knowledge of PowerPoint if that's what you're using; good ability to read effectively from written notes if that's what you're doing; etc.).

  4. Engaging personality and ability to relate well to your audience, calm nerves, sense of humor, etc.

  5. Last but certainly not least: knowing the material well!

None of these skills are easy or trivial, and all of them require extensive training and practice to get good at. So if you're thinking of reading from notes as a shortcut that will enable you to give a good talk despite having serious language deficiencies or suffering from terrible stage fright, think again - there are no shortcuts (which is what I mean by saying you can't beat the system). The bottom line is: reading from notes may be the approach that works best for you, and I wouldn't advise you to rule the idea out, but the point is you'd still have to put in a lot of work to do it well and successfully. Good luck!

share|improve this answer

Just reading aloud your notes is something that is typically not seen as good in many fields (e.g., computer science). There are many reasons for that, one of which being that it is often the bad presenters who do this.

However, I feel compelled to point out that there is nothing wrong with doing that if it actually improves the presentation. Two examples are:

  • I've once witnessed a super-big-shot doing this for the introduction of his talk at a premier conference. The introduction was ultra-carefully crafted to set the work into a very precise context, in a well-understandable way, in very short time, while speaking clearly and slowly at the same time. After that, he continued with freely talking about the actual novel results in his talk. The introduction was actually great and helped researchers from related disciplines a lot to grasp the main ideas.
  • Speakers with a native language that is quite "far" away from English do this sometimes to avoid grammatical errors during the talk. If the errors that they make during free speech makes it almost impossible to understand the talk, then reading from cards improves the talk.
share|improve this answer
    
Can you clarify your answer with what field this relates to? In some fields, particularly in the humanities, reading straight from a previously-prepared text is the norm. – E.P. Mar 14 at 8:16
    
@E.P. Done. What you are writing is news to me. Thanks the remark. – DCTLib Mar 14 at 9:28

I agree with avoiding reading notes for the reasons already suggested (Death By Powerpoint being one of them).

When presenting (no matter how small or large is the audience) I use slides with one or two words (or a picture) to help me to keep track of the presentation rather than to entertain the audience.

I then use a technique used by Romans speakers (it has its own graceful name which I forgot Method of loci, thanks @MassimoOrtolano) to mentally walk though a house from room to room and attach "things I must say" to elements in that room. It also helps me to time the presentation (I am usually within 2-3 minutes for an hour presentation)

share|improve this answer
    
It's the method of loci. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 13 at 17:03
    
@MassimoOrtolano: exactly, thank you. I updated my answer. – WoJ Mar 13 at 17:04

I took speech class a couple of years back and my teacher taught us that we should not read our notes when doing presentations.

It is very boring and you will lose credibility in what you were talking about. It is better to have a speaker who is engaged and knows what they are talking about in order for the audience to listen. This would require plenty of hours to practice. I believe a good example who has done this is Martin Luther King. He used to spend hours and hours preparing for his Sunday sermon.

share|improve this answer

What I recommend you is to present as best as you can and %10 percent of the each slide you can read or just skim realy quick while you are speaking. As @Massimo said listening a presentation that a presenter read from the slides is not nice at al.

share|improve this answer

Two relatively extreme examples.


Digression from notes

Consider Bryan Cantrill on Jails and Solaris Zones | Papers We Love (2016-02-11) – 105 minutes of excitable, fast-talking discussion around a 44-slide presentation.

How fast? Commentary under https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgN8pCMLI2U includes a wish for the speaker slow down a bit; the speaker jokes that "To slow down is to admit defeat". There are neither subtitles nor a transcript (I might joke that the pace of discussion defeats the will of most potential transcribers); if spoken at a more 'traditional' pace, I reckon that the discussion could have spanned three hours or more.

Is it good to read notes during a presentation?

At one point, Cantrill appears to rein himself him – one of the digressions (from FreeBSD jails) ends with a salutory mention of Robben Island and whilst presenter's notes are at the rostrum, the reining involved no visible use of those notes. Instead, there's:

  • visible presenter focus on the audience's view of the presentation.

At all other times, the audience enjoys presenter focus on the audience; on his maintaining their engagement with what's discussed.


Attention to notes

DCTLib observed:

… at a premier conference. The introduction was ultra-carefully crafted to set the work into a very precise context, in a well-understandable way, in very short time, while speaking clearly and slowly at the same time. After that, he continued with freely talking about the actual novel results in his talk. The introduction was actually great and helped researchers from related disciplines a lot to grasp the main ideas.

Back to the opening question:

Is it good to read notes during a presentation?

For an introduction of the type described by DCTLib: yes – it can be very good to do so.

share|improve this answer

During Speech classes I took in college, I had notecards with notes on them just in case I forgot or needed to add something related to that situation. So I believe it's good to read notes, but best not to read it word for word. You should keep your eyes on your audience and not distract them with sudden movements or bore them as you read your notes.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.