Before you give any presentation, I always recommend creating a digital document for your audience that, at the very least, provides an overview of what you discussed and any key takeaways or data they may want. And then, very early in your presentation, let your audience know about your handout. This act of goodwill helps you connect with your audience in four important ways:

  1. Now the audience doesn’t have to worry about taking notes, and they can really focus on you.
  2. The fact that you have notes ready for them demonstrates both that your presentation contains great content that they would otherwise need to write down and that you’ve planned enough to invest your time in assembling these notes for them.
  3. If there are valuable notes to be taken and you’ve invested your time doing it for them, you just offered your audience a great gift, and you’re not even five minutes into your presentation.
  4. Now that you have something to share with your audience, you have a reason for the all-important post-presentation touchpoint, opening the door for future collaboration. In a future post, I’ll share some ways to facilitate this post-presentation outreach.

So why do you not want your audience taking notes while you’re talking? Well, this very topic has been researched a good deal. A 2006 analysis in the journal of Educational Psychology by professor Keiichi Kobayashi at Shizuoka University in Japan examined 33 separate academic studies on note taking/reviewing to see if they could uncover any consistent techniques that improved retention in learners. What Kobayashi found was that students who were provided instructor notes across these studies retained more information than counterpoints who did not*.

While this study was focused on the classroom and not the conference or meeting room environment, it intuitively makes sense that attendees benefit from a structured way to later review your presentation, and that you would likely not want them distracted by extensive note-taking during your presentation. We know that note-taking requires significant cognitive load and distracts your audience, who cannot write as fast as you can speak, and who will likely struggle to physically encode what you just said while still listening to what you’re saying next. Kobayashi discusses three separate studies that identified note-taking as a problematic and challenging approach: in one psychology class students recorded an average of less than 50% of information needed for the exam; in another study, students often failed to draw critical diagrams and missed lecture notes; and the final study concluded that many students are simply poor note-takers and do not benefit from taking or reviewing notes.

Even if your audience can take effective notes while you’re presenting, it will undoubtedly be mentally taxing for them and risk a dip in their focus. So why not tell them that you’ll provide notes afterwards and let them focus on you while you’re talking?

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