By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 12-09-2023
Making good cue cards from standard office supply index or note cards to help you confidently deliver an extemporaneous speech is relatively easy. And using them well will lift the quality of your presentation immeasurably. (Truly! I promise you that's not hyperbole. ☺)
Step-by-step guidelines on how to make cue cards and use them well:
Cue* or note cards, used by speakers when making an extemporaneous speech*, are typically handheld. They are about 4 inches by 6 inches in size, with carefully selected and ordered words and phrases written on them. These act as prompt to help speakers remember what they have to say.
*A cue is a signal or a prompt to say or do something.
*extemporaneous speech -a well-prepared speech that relies on research, clear organization, and practiced delivery, but is neither read nor completely memorized.
People who do not use cue cards to help them deliver a prepared speech either read it from a word-for-word printout or rely entirely on their memory.
However, both these delivery methods have potential traps for the unwary.
Enter cue cards!
The benefits of using cue cards well are:
A well-prepared set of cue cards will give you confidence. You will sound, look and feel more present, and your entire delivery will have more life, more energy!
For those of you who are nervous about making the transition from the safety of a complete sentence by sentence script to note cards, don't be. Take it slowly. Give yourself time to thoroughly prepare and rehearse with them, and you'll be delighted with the result.
You'll need a packet of standard index cards, similar to the one in the illustration below, a selection of highlighters, (for example, yellow, pink, blue and green), and an easily-read pen. I suggest using one with either blue or black ink.
The information you put on your cards and how you lay it out is critically important. You need to be able to read and understand them at a glance. (See the illustration below)
The most user-friendly cue cards:
Before starting the cue cards you need to make sure your speech is fully prepared.
The next 3 steps are an essential part of the preparation process.
Using your speech outline go through from the beginning checking the sequence of ideas, supporting material and transitions to ensure all your information is in an effective and logical sequence. (And if you haven't made an outline yet download and use the blank one available from the link below.)
Use your outline to try your speech out loud. Say it through as if you were actually giving it and time yourself.
Remember to allow for pausing, waiting for the audience to finish laughing before you begin talking again, and so on.
You may need to edit if it's too long and it's a lot easier to do that at this stage.
Once you have the length right for your time allowance, ask a few people whose judgment you trust to listen to you give your speech. Have them give you feedback on its content, structure and delivery, paying particular attention to the introduction and the close.
(For more information see speech evaluation| giving and receiving meaningful feedback.)
Use the feedback you've been given to rework your speech if you need to.
When you're satisfied you have it the best it can possibly be, you're ready to prepare it for cue cards.
Each segment or part of your speech, from its introduction to conclusion, should be reducible to a key word or phrase. The phrase or keyword will act as a prompt, or trigger, making you immediately remember what it was you wanted to say.
Before you can write your cue cards you need to go through your speech outline and choose a word or phrase that best represents what each part is about.
Once you've finished, you're ready to write up your cards using the 1-10 guidelines above.
Double check the effectiveness of each card as you write them to make sure you are using keywords or phrases that actually do trigger your memory.
This is also particularly important for links or transitions. Forgetting how you got from one piece of information to the next not only leaves you stranded but your audience as well.
NB. Be sure to note the names of important people, facts or processes too.
Do not be tempted to print or write the whole of your speech out, then cut it into bits and stick those bits onto cue card sized pieces of cardboard. * It will defeat your purpose entirely.
You'll finish with ridiculously cramped notes that, as well as being difficult to read, stop you from freely interacting with your audience. You'll be head down trying to decipher what you wrote!
*(I've seen it in action! Occasionally one of my student's would try it and the result was never, ever good.)
You'll find a full page here on 'how to rehearse'.
It includes notes specifically on rehearsing using your cue cards as well as other valuable tips for delivering your speech successfully.
Now that you've completed your set of cards, please don't shortchange yourself by assuming you are fully prepared and ready for delivery.
To use them well you really do need to practice with them. Before you give your speech aim for at least three concentrated rehearsal sessions and do more if possible.
The principal difference between them is their purpose.
Flash cards are used to help memorize information for example, vocabulary lists for a new language you're learning, the sequence of events leading to the outbreak of WW2, or the names and placement of all the bones in the human body.
They frequently have diagrams and pictures as well as words on them to make the information easier to remember.
The goal or purpose of them is instant recall. They are extensively used by students, particularly as part of their exam preparation.
In comparison, cue cards are generally larger than flash cards and have less information on them - just an ordered sequence of a speech's key words and phrases.
Whereas flash cards are used prior to an examination or test, cue cards are used during a presentation. Their purpose is to prompt or remind the speaker to say what they wanted to.