Some presentation skills training regarding notes.
A very common theatrical undertaking is the "reading"- a performance where a bunch of actors get together, often in front of industry professionals, to perform a new or little known work. Everyone is reading from a script (hence the name), and there is little to no movement or blocking to the piece- this event is simply to hear the words (and sometimes the music) of the play and see if the content works. On any given day in New York, tons of readings occur, and most actors can ramble off a list of ones with which they've been involved.
There is a specific challenge inherent to a reading- everyone is holding a script. Not unlike a business presentation where the speaker is juggling notes and slides, maintaining connection with your audience can be difficult when looking for content while holding a script. While we can't overstress the importance of rehearsal for becoming familiar and building comfort with your content, physicality, and vocal production (you can find some thoughts on the rehearsal process here), here are some quick tips to help with the mechanics of reading from your notes.
1. Partial Page: Getting lost in our notes can build a huge wall between us and our audience- our eye contact dies as we scan the text and rifle through pages, we sometimes start to ramble as we play for time, and our physicality slumps as we attempt to hide behind a few sheets of paper. Making sure that your notes are clear and easy to read will help when you need to reference them, and the best way to avoid getting lost in a page full of text is to work from partial pages. If you are speaking from pages of notes, let your text occupy only HALF of the page, with plenty of spacing in between:
Your notes should resemble something like this. While you might not choose to
write out every word your going to say (we would advise you not to- no one wants
to watch someone simply read!), a few clear concise notes, laid out with plenty of
space, will allow your eye to quickly find where you went awry.
Also, if your content only takes up the top half of the page, you will never have to lose yourself scanning to the bottom of a crowded 8 1/2 by 11" in 10 pt font.
2. Page Slide: Standing at a lectern or table? Rather than flip each page over as you go, (creating lots of visual and audible fuss...) when you are through with a page simply slide it face up and to the side. When you've finished the next page, slide it face up on top of the previous page. Continuing this way means you don't have to disconnect from your audience to discard pages, or dig through and flip pages over if you need to reference an earlier moment in your notes. All of your content remains face up, and at any given time you can see your current page of notes, as well as the section you've just completed. Calm, cool, and in control.
3. Cheat sheet: Actors often have quick visual references to find where they are in a given piece, whether in a reading or a full production. Having a simple visual cheat can mean the difference between quickly regaining their place or destroying the audience involvement and flow of the piece. (In a reading, actors often use colored tabs with song or scene titles written on them to help them easily find where they need to be.) Give yourself a cheat sheet when you present to ensure that you can quickly get back on track if your presentation derails. An index card or a small piece of paper with a brief outline wil do the trick. Keep in mind, all you need are headlines of your keypoints- a short phrase that you can glance at that will quickly jog your memory. Incidentally, having a hard copy of this sheet is probably the most helpful. That way, regardless of the state of your technology, you'll never lose your guide.