After a NorCal Sisters in Crime Showcase, an audience member came up to me and asked, “Why are authors such bad readers of their works?”
Since I’d been one of the readers, I was mightily offended.
The man, however, seemed genuinely curious, and with a little reflection, I realized the comment was not personal. He may even have felt safe asking me the question because generally I am a good reader.
Performance anxiety was part of my answer to the gentleman. Seinfeld once noted that public speaking is our number one fear, meaning at a funeral we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.
I’ve certainly given some disastrous performances in my day, once reading nonstop to a withering group for twenty minutes!
But through the experience of many readings, a workshop on this exact topic offered by NorCal Sisters, and performances with a musical group, I’ve learned a lot.
Some of these tips may seem too obvious to state, but you’d be amazed at how many authors don’t do these things, prompting Mr. Audience Member’s question.
So, here you go:
- Know exactly what you’re going to read and PRACTICE reading the passage out loud, several times, perhaps many times!
- Modify the text, if necessary. There’s no law against this. When a piece is read aloud, certain things may not be necessary, or you may need to add a bit for clarification.
- Print out the text in a larger font. I’ve read successfully from books, and there’s appeal to the visual of the cover, BUT it’s easier to keep your place on printed-out copies. You can hold the material farther from your face so the audience will be able to see you better and/or lay the papers on the podium if your hands are shaking.
- Wait for your audience. Do not utter a word until they are paying attention.
- Adjust the mic. If you don’t have experience raising/lowering mic’s, check out the equipment ahead of time. Crouching or raising on tiptoes to reach a mic is distracting.
- Use the mic, unless you have a tiny, intimate group.
- Water is usually supplied by bookstores and other organizations, but take some just in case. Dry, smacking lips make the audience uncomfortable on your behalf. It’s okay to take a sip of water during your reading, just avoid the Marco Rubio reach.
- Inflect your voice. Put energy into the reading.
- Have different voices for each character. This will make your presentation more interesting and easier to follow.
- Have fun. Even if you’re reading in a prison, your audience didn’t have to come. They came to hear you and to support you.