Class Updates Tues 9.22 Minimalist Cue Cards and Delivery Triangle

Today was a “dress rehearsal” of our speeches of self introduction. Before I talk about “cue” cards, a few notes: Two notes that I announced in class: 1. I will collect your note card after you are done speaking, so put your name on them. 2. You had homework do for today; it was on the class calendar. This took many people by surprise. So we are going to have a second evaluation due on 10/1 in class. You can find details on the revised class calendar posted to eLC. If you did the homework, you got credit for the first due date and you may go ahead and do the second opportunity as well.

Alright, onto cue cards…

My advice is get someone else to write your cue cards to prompt memory recall. Give someone else your outline and a blank card, then give your speech from memory. Every time you get stuck–even if it’s the first word–ask for a prompt (use the blocking and mining strategies we discussed during the monologue) and have your notetaker write down your prompt on the card. That is ALL you write on the card – your prompts for when you get stuck. Then deliver again from the beginning until you get stuck again. Repeat. Do NOT worry whether what you are saying matches what is on your outline. Only that you are getting across the most important ideas from your speech.

By the end you should have a note card with about a dozen words on it. They should be all of the key words of your speech and NOTHING else. If your speech follows the principles of good speech writing: simple sentences, vivid words, minimal adjectives and conjunctions, thematically consistently, clear central idea, concrete SUPPORTS…then you should be able to give your 3 minutes of vocal splendor with about a dozen words, no problem.

AS SOON AS POSSIBLE GET OUT OFF YOUR OUTLINE AND ONTO YOUR CARDS. Work the speech from your note cards. As long as your major ideas are appearing then don’t worry about what’s NOT there – you probably don’t need it. After about six practice sessions you should find that a lot of what was in your outline has slimmed down. If you find yourself adding new material—not just wording but whole new ideas or explanations or SUPPORTS—ask yourself whether it’s really necessary and whether, at this point, you’ve actually got time to redesign your outline and start over.

As your textbook, Stand Up Speak Out, puts it

Prepare Notecards to Trigger Recall

The “trick” to selecting the words to write on your cards is to identify the keywords that will trigger a recall sequence. For instance, if the word “Fukushima” brings to mind the nuclear power plant meltdown that followed the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, then that one word on your notecard should propel you through a sizable sequence of points and details. Once you have delivered that material, perhaps you’ll glance at your card again to remind yourself of the key word or phrase that comes next.

You must discover what works for you and then select those words that tend to jog your recall. (Then your book says some business about working with 5 note cards, which is insane, so I deleted this part. Moving on…)

Always practice with your notecards—and with any visual aids you plan to use. Practicing is also the best way to find out what kinds of things might go wrong with your notes in the presented speech and what steps you should take to make things go smoothly.

I’ve put some sample note cards for you on eLC to go with a sample speech. This sample shows three 3 x 5 note cards, I recommend one 5 x 8 but if you’re working off tiny cards you can use 1 or 2 cards ONLY IF they look like this (and to be honest I think even this note card is too cluttered).

Sample Note Cards for Going Too Fast Speech of Self Introduction

Alright, onto the Delivery Triangle:

Yes, I totally made this up but it works. The back part of the triangle (away from the audience) is where you delivery your warm up and SUPPORTS. Deliver different SUPPORTS in different “corners” of the triangle or if you’re telling a longer story or something move purposefully along the back of the triangle. Move to the FRONT of the triangle only when you are saying your central idea statements or reiterations that appear during your speech, especially at the conclusion. Walk between the corners of the triangle ONLY while transitioning. You can walk quietly (or shift you weight quietly for those of you that don’t like to walk) OR you can say a transition phrase while walking: so this taught me, that day I learned, from there I decided…. BUT DO NOT SAY KEY IDEAS. When in doubt, say nothing.


After stepping forward toward the audience to state your final iteration of the central idea, take a brief step back to deliver your “zinger” or concluding sentence. This should confirm that the speech has ended and promote a rousing round of applause. If this does not happen, you need to work on landing your conclusions, which we will do together for the rest of the semester, I promise.

Aaanndd….tomorrow we start speeches! Good luck! I know you will be great.

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I am a rhetorical scholar, public speaker, and teacher at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I study speech and contemporary U.S. political culture and teach courses in public speaking, interpersonal and visual communication, speech and media, and rhetorical theory and criticism. I have been featured on RabbitBox Storytelling and TEDx.

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