With the rise in vogue of literary festivals, here are some tips for authors about reading work aloud in public
- Prepare your welcome
Those first moments when you walk out on stage can feel very scary, and the last thing you want is to communicate those nerves to an audience. When you get to the mike, make a point of looking at your audience and deliver a greeting. This can be as simple as “hello” but will put those listening at ease. If your audience senses they can trust you to entertain them, you have a good chance of keeping them on side.
- Be yourself
Writing is a solitary occupation and it can be difficult to step away from the computer screen and stand up public. Wear an outfit you feel comfortable in, but don’t feel you have to dress as someone else. However hard this might be to believe, it’s you the audience has come to hear.
- Make sure you are comfortable with the space
If necessary, arrive early and check you are happy with the lighting and sound levels. If there is a mike and you are unsure how to work it, ask for a brief practice. Remember to check the mike is at the right height for you. There is nothing worse than having to lean or stretch to reach the mike.
- Edit for reading
What works on the page doesn’t always when it is read out loud so don’t be afraid to edit with a performance in mind.
- Practice is key
No matter how well you know your own work, always rehearse reading it aloud. There is a difference in the way our eyes read from the way our voice reads. The rhythms, stresses and pauses are seldom the same.
- Learn the words
If you know the pieces you will read well you will be able to focus on delivering them to an audience.
Think about your chosen passages – their mood, what they convey – and try to get this into your reading. If there is a question, ask it to the audience. If the writing involves a character, act that character out. Even a small adjustment in voice and stance will communicate itself to those listening and adds another level of interest.
- Don’t rush
Nerves mean we often read too quickly, which makes it harder for an audience to take our words in. Slow down!
- Less is more
The aim is to whet an audience’s appetite for your work (so they will buy it at the bookstall afterwards!), which is why short passages punctuated by your commentary tend to work better than very long readings.
Think about how you will introduce each of your passages. For example, if you are reading a poem or short story, you might say something about where the piece came from. If you are reading from a longer work, remember to give your audience enough information so they can follow what is happening.
Pause after any introduction before you begin reading your passage, and always pause for at least two beats once you have finished. Experiment with giving the last line extra emphasis so the audience senses the piece is coming to an end.
- Think about how you stand
Hold yourself straight and if you don’t know what to do with your hands practice keeping them relaxed by your side. Be aware of body language and remember that it will be part of how your audience perceives you. Watch yourself reading in front of a mirror. Even better, ask someone to film you reading.
- Maintain eye contact
This is crucial. Make sure you look up repeatedly as you read so you include your audience. Your task is to draw those listening into the huge or tiny worlds you have created, make them feel you want them there in your poem or story. Don’t be afraid to look people in the eye. Treat anyone you know as a stranger.
- Feign confidence
However nervous you are, do everything to hide it. Your audience wants to be entertained, not worry on your behalf. Don’t confess your fear and never apologise for your work.
- Dealing with Questions
This can be the most nerve-wracking part of a reading, because it is impossible to predict what questions you will be asked. Always acknowledge a question – that way the asker won’t feel slighted. If you can’t immediately think of an answer, use it as a launch pad to a topic you can talk about. It is entirely up to you how much personal information you reveal.
- Learn from others
Go to literary festivals and hear how other authors read and introduce their work.
- Good luck!