Everything you need to know about using speaker notes in PowerPoint®

Chariti Canny

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Chariti Canny

Through preparing for our training, Slide Design, we realized there’s a feature that many presenters don’t realize plays a key role in slide design and speaker support: speaker notes in PowerPoint®.

To use your speaker notes in PowerPoint most effectively during your next talk, follow the tips below.

What are speaker notes in PowerPoint?

Speaker notes in PowerPoint help presenters recall important points, such as key messages or stats, as they give a presentation. The speaker note panel lives at the bottom of your screen in Normal view, although some users may have this section hidden.

Use the speaker notes to add more nuanced information about a slide’s graphics, or instructions for how to click through an animation. It can also be handy to add links to important files or just use this space as a general note taking section—like someone would use a scratch piece of paper.

What are the benefits of speaker notes in PowerPoint?

You are the storyteller, and your slides are your support, forming the atmosphere and emphasizing your key points. Because there’s a limit to how much information people can process at one time—they will either listen to you or read your slides—it’s important to show only information essential for your story.

Speaker notes in PowerPoint allow you to move nonessential text and stats off your slides so that your audience can fully absorb your message. Having the info in the speaker notes allows you to be ready should your audience ask questions about your data, or other points in your presentation that may require additional information.

Though speaker notes should be a somewhat simplified version of what you are saying, using them for the high-level points of your script will help you match your talk track to what’s happening on the slide behind you.

Spending a little time structuring speaker notes in PowerPoint can also be an easy way to turn your presentation into a dual-purpose file. Not only can you use your file to present, you can use it as a standalone document that can be effectively shared without you presenting. This more advanced feature is described below.

How do I add speaker notes in PowerPoint?

There are two ways to add speaker notes in PowerPoint.

Method One: Directly edit in slide editing mode (aka Normal View). Click the notes section of the window and begin typing. If the notes are hidden, click the Notes button found in options on the bottom right of the PowerPoint screen.

how to add speaker notes in PowerPoint - method one

Method Two: Edit your notes in Notes View. Click on the View tab in the ribbon and click Notes Page. Here you have more room on the screen to write your notes and adjust the font size and layout.

how to add speaker notes in PowerPoint - method two

How should you write speaker notes in PowerPoint?

We typically advise speakers not to write their script word-for-word in the speaker notes section, as this can tempt a presenter to break a connection with an audience, as well as begin to sound inauthentic.

The first bullet point of your speaker notes can convey that overarching idea, and your other points can support it. I call these speaking touchpoints, and often they are short words or phrases that will remind me of what I want to say.

If one of your supporting concepts involves telling an anecdote or story, you can trigger your memory by leaving a note to yourself in brackets. For example, you could type:

  • As a company, we’ve been through difficult times before
  • [Story: 2008 financial crisis]

It’s also important to keep these simple because the space to view them is limited. Though, there are times when a more elaborate note needs to be included. I’ve found that including a very important phrase in full is one of my favorite things about speaker notes. We often spend a lot of time crafting that pivotal moment, the pace of it, and the wording. Leave room to easily see it in presenter view.

Once, I sat through a presentation where the presenter stayed on one slide for quite some time. He was telling a long story that was coming back to resolve and tie together various points of information on the slide. To help himself stay on track, he wrote about six key speaking touchpoints in a list in the speaker notes, duplicated the slide (so it looked the same to the audience), then completed his next few speaking touchpoints for the slide. When he reached the bottom of the first six touchpoints he clicked the slide without missing a beat and continued the talk track. The audience had no idea that he just moved slides and he was able to use his notes, even though they were long.

The speaker notes are also an opportunity to include “stage directions.” These can be anything from reminding yourself to click and advance an animation, gesture to a co-speaker or member of the audience, or even take a breath and pause.

How do you project speaker notes in PowerPoint during a presentation?

PowerPoint is set up to show notes only to the speaker when a presentation is connected to another output, such as a monitor, a projector, a video conferencing app, etc. Just select the Slide Show tab and click Presenter View to enable a display that only you can see on your computer.

how to project speaker notes in PowerPoint

You’ll see your slides, speaker notes, and even a timer, but your audience will only see slides projected on a monitor or screen.

How else can I use my speaker notes in PowerPoint?

I mentioned that you can structure the notes pages to act as a standalone document that can be shared without you presenting. This is a more advanced way to use notes, but extremely valuable.

Let’s say your presentation wowed your audience so much that they requested copies of your slides so they can reference them later, or share with others. Because you created a presentation meant to be shown, not read, chances are that your file won’t make sense to someone who wasn’t in the room.

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Unless, of course, they can read and make sense of your speaker notes. Speaker notes can be used to create beautiful presentation artifacts for your audiences. By giving people a physical reminder of your presentation content, they’ll keep thinking about your talk long after you give it, and they’ll more easily share your message with others.

David Allen, the author of the bestselling series Getting Things Done, leaves information behind after his talks to ensure that his audience remembers his key principles and methodologies.

After we created a cinematic presentation for David, we translated the rich, evocative images and layouts of his presentation into handouts that anyone could read and understand.

How can I use speaker notes in PowerPoint to create handouts?

Here’s how to do it:

1. Click on View in the ribbon and select Notes Page. You’ll see that the slide visual takes up the top half of the page and the text below the slide defaults to a bulleted list.

PowerPoint notes view to develop handouts

This basic note layout is extremely modifiable. Not only can the Notes Master be adjusted, but each Notes Page itself can have text, charts, quotes, and images added as separate and additional content to augment what’s on the surface slide.

2. ​To make changes that will impact the basic structure of all your notes pages, navigate to the Notes Master View: View tab > Master > Notes Master.

3. Make changes to the layout in the Notes Master, keeping in mind that changes here will be reflected on all the notes pages. In the image below, an example of a default Notes Master is shown at left, with a modified master page at right.

presentation handouts outline

You can scale your slide thumbnail to any size and place it anywhere on the master. Headers, footers, and the note placeholder can be moved into any position you’d like. You can add objects to the Notes Master, but remember that objects added in Notes Master will appear on every slide’s notes page. Thus, you must be strategic about what you add. To that point, adding a logo or some other universal image would make sense in the Notes Master.

4. Once the Notes Master has been restructured, return to Notes View: View tab > Notes Page.

5. For each page, add any custom graphics, data, text, or other items that relate to that slide. Remember, these will not appear on the slides; they only appear in these notes.

In the layouts we created for David Allen below, we placed a small image of the slide on the top left of the page and a graphic and quote at the top right.

presentation handouts

How do I print speaker notes in PowerPoint?

Perhaps you’d rather print out your notes instead of viewing them digitally on a monitor. Or maybe you’ve gone the extra step and customized your notes and now you’re ready to distribute them to your audience.

1. Click the File tab and select Print to open the print dialog.

2. Pull down the second menu within the Settings options. PowerPoint defaults to the Full Page Slides option, and you’ll need to switch it to Notes Pages option.

PowerPoint print options

Now you can print the file in Notes View to give a hard copy to your audience.

*Note: Image resolutions may be slightly less in printed or PDF Notes View. Text and shapes will remain the same.

By putting thought into how you prepare, use, and re-use your speaker notes, you ensure that your message resonates long after you and your audience leave the room.

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