The use of cheat sheets is neither new nor unusual, particularly when it comes to events and high-pressure situations that demand an immediate and accurate response. Even the best public speakers and leaders may rely on notes or pre-written statements to ensure that their message hits the mark.
However, the recent controversies surrounding President Joe Biden’s use of cheat sheets have sparked a debate as to whether or not it is acceptable for a political leader to resort to such measures.
Last month, Biden was caught with a cheat sheet during a media engagement. The note had a picture of a journalist from the Los Angeles Times along with a question, “How are YOU squaring YOUR domestic priorities—like reshoring semiconductors manufacturing—with alliance-based foreign policy?”
The reporter asked, “Your top economic priority has been to build up U.S. domestic manufacturing in competition with China, but your rules against expanding chip manufacturing in China is hurting South Korean companies that rely heavily on Beijing. Are you damaging a key ally in the competition with China to help your domestic politics ahead of the election?”
While some viewed Biden’s use of a cheat sheet as a harmless tactic, others saw it as a sign of weakness and an indication that he was struggling to handle the pressure of the job.
One individual who has spoken out against Biden’s use of cheat sheets is NFL player David Bakhtiari. On May 14, 2023, Bakhtiari tweeted, “Can we have authentic and real NON-SCRIPTED interviews?? I understand and agree with prepping someone (like studying for a test) but this is a bit too far. It’s just one big play..”
Bakhtiari’s comments have sparked a broader debate on the use of cheat sheets in public speaking and politics. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the pros and cons of using cheat sheets, and examine some of the instances where they have been used in high profile events.
Pros of Using Cheat Sheets
1. Helps to Avoid Mistakes
Even for experienced speakers, it’s easy to forget key points or stumble over your words when under pressure. Having a cheat sheet can help to jog your memory and ensure that you don’t leave anything out that could jeopardize your message.
2. Provides Structure
Following a pre-written script or bullet-point list can help to ensure that your message is delivered in a structured and logical way. This can help to keep the audience engaged and prevent misunderstandings or misconceptions about your key points.
3. Boosts Confidence
Knowing that you have a cheat sheet to refer to can help to ease nerves and build confidence. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who are not used to public speaking or who are dealing with high-pressure situations.
4. Saves Time
Using a cheat sheet can help to ensure that you make the most of the time you have available and that you deliver your message in a concise and focused way.
Cons of Using Cheat Sheets
1. Looks Unprofessional
Using a cheat sheet can make you look unprofessional or unprepared, particularly in situations where you are expected to be an expert on the topic at hand.
2. Can be Misleading
By relying on a script or cheat sheet, you may inadvertently mislead your audience or fail to provide sufficient depth and detail on a topic. This can lead to misunderstandings or even accusations of dishonesty or incompetence.
3. Limits Audience Interaction
If you’re relying on a cheat sheet to guide your presentation, you may be less likely to engage with your audience and respond to their questions or comments in a meaningful way.
4. Can be Distracting
Worrying about following a cheat sheet can be distracting and even detrimental to your performance. It can make you more self-conscious and cause you to lose focus on delivering your message in a natural and engaging way.
Cases of Famous Cheat Sheet Use
Here are some cases where individuals have used cheat sheets in high profile events:
1. Hillary Clinton
During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Hillary Clinton was caught with a cheat sheet during a town hall meeting. Some of the questions she was asked in the meeting had already been released beforehand, and she used a cheat sheet to ensure that she hit all of her key talking points.
2. George W. Bush
During the 2004 Presidential Campaign, George W. Bush was caught with a cheat sheet during a debate. The note included key phrases and bullet points of his answers to potential questions. The controversy led some to question his ability to handle the pressure of the job.
3. Rick Perry
In 2011, during a Republican Presidential Debate, Rick Perry famously forgot one of the key government agencies he had promised to abolish if elected. Following this, he resorted to using a cheat sheet to help him remember his talking points during subsequent debates.
4. Barack Obama
In 2008, Barack Obama was caught with a cheat sheet during a town hall event. The note included the names and key points of some of the individuals in the audience, and helped him to engage with them in a more meaningful way.
The use of cheat sheets in public speaking and politics is a contentious issue, with good arguments on both sides. While they can help to boost confidence and ensure that key messages are delivered accurately, they can also be a sign of weakness or unprofessionalism, and can limit interaction with the audience.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use a cheat sheet should depend on the individual and the situation at hand. In some cases, it may be an effective tool to help ensure that you deliver your message in a clear and concise manner. In others, it may be less appropriate, and detract from your credibility and effectiveness as a speaker or leader.