Amy Carroll » Speaking Tips » Setting Up a Message Notebook

Setting Up a Message Notebook

As a novice speaker, I was meticulous about my notes. I didn’t just type out a rough outline. Nope. No Roman numerals for me. I typed out nearly each and every word I would say! Then, I ran it off on my old dinosaur computer, tucked the pages in a school pocket folder and was off to my engagement.

As the years progressed, I learned—through the few near disasters that occurred—some ways to streamline my note making. Try these:

  •  DO NOT use notes that are loose pages. They may get out of order. Even if they are cleverly numbered, they still might tumble off the podium leaving you scrambling to reorder them while your audience waits. (Been there. Dropped that.)
  • Use a three-ring binder and clear plastic pages protectors. You know, like the ones used in scrap booking? This way your notes are in order and if you do happen to drop your folder, the pages will stay in the proper order.
  • Use a combo of outline and actual written-out words. If you come to a point where you will tell a story that you are very familiar with, you will just need to put a bullet point (or Roman numeral, if you wish) that states “Tell the story of the family reunion”). However, if there is a certain way you want to word a very important teaching point, you might want to type it out word-for-word.
  • Color-code your notes. It makes it easier on the eyes and helps you to quickly find your place when you are through doing a portion of your talk from memory and then return to your notes. Perhaps stories are in red; main points in blue; outside quotes, lyrics, etc.. are in green.
  • Or, color code for time length. Often a group that has booked you for a 45-minute talk will suddenly say they are running behind due to the craft project or other portion that went long. Now they wonder, “Can you do the talk in 30 minutes?” To avoid having to edit on the fly, I color code my message folders this way. If I have an hour, I cover all the material in my notes (black, red & blue font colors). If I only have 45 minutes, I skip the red. If I only have a half-hour, I skip the blue too, covering only what is in black. This has saved me MANY on-the-fly edit jobs.
  • In the front of the binder, tuck a note that tells what all you will need to successfully give that message. Do you have a visual? Read an excerpt from a book? Need to show an illustration that requires some household items? By listing it there you will save time racking your brain trying to remember what you need to bring with you when you deliver that particular message.

With a little advanced planning, your notes can help you deliver your best message with very little headaches!


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  1. Thank you Karan for more great tips!! Color coding is a great idea!!

  2. Great suggestions…oh how many times I have watched a speaker scramble for her papers as they fly off the podium. Me, I’m the one looking for my glasses, which are usually perched upon my head! Thanks for this, Karen!

  3. Love these ideas! This is something I can use right away. Love, love, love the color coding for time idea. I am definitely going to do this.

  4. Great ideas! I like the one on color- coding…just in case.
    This blog has helped me to be prepared in my speaking ministry. God has been opening doors and has me booked until August.


  5. Love the tip on color coding for time. As a safety trainer I am always running out of time due to class discussions.


  6. Thank you Karen! I do many of these things already but having you say them makes me feel much more comfortable that I am on the right track!

  7. Oh thanks for this list of tips. . I love the idea of color coding for time length. Great idea. And 2 more things I wanted to tell you. . we will be going on a long vacation for Spring Break and I got copies of the books you have under your Suggested Reading tab on your sidebar. I look forward to reading them. And I have signed up for She Speaks Conference in July . . .nervous but so excited to be around women who have a smiliar as me. . and so excited to learn more about my passion. . .and so looking forward to meeting you.

  8. Thanks so much for this, Amy! It is perfect timing as I am preparing for my first ‘official’ talk to be given the end of April.

    I appreciate your site and all the help and wisdom found here.

    1. Lisa,

      Yay God!! Congratiulations on the first of many!! Praying for the peace of God to wash over you as you take the stage.