Writers, there may come a time when you are called to read your poems, short stories, or an excerpt of your novel in a public setting. Depending on your personality, the thought of public speaking will either send tremors of terror through you or you will revel in the chance to read your work to an appreciative audience. Whether you love open mike night or hate it, we’ve got some tips to help make your public reading a smashing success!
1. Be prepared. You’ll be far more confident if you’ve practiced your reading several times over—in front of a mirror, before an audience of family members or hamsters, or outside in the privacy of your garden. To be sure of both your auditory and visual impact, try recording yourself. Practice until you feel relaxed and sure of yourself and the material is second nature.
2. Familiarize yourself with the venue. Will you have a microphone? How many will be in attendance? Will you stand at a podium or sit in a chair? Eliminating the unknown will help you feel more comfortable.
3. Choose lively material. Make sure the poems, stories, or excerpts you choose to read are appropriate for the audience, lend themselves well to public reading, and are exciting and/or your best work. Feel free to edit or tailor the piece to suit the circumstances.
4. Maintain an audible volume. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to understand a speaker who mumbles or whispers. (And it’s no fun to have someone shout at you either.)
5. Maintain eye contact. Help the audience make a personal connection with you. At certain intervals, glance up and make eye contact with a member of the audience. Invite trusted friends and/or family members to connect with during the reading. And if you’re very, very shy, look out at an empty chair or the wall and smile.
6. Maintain a good tone. Good speakers bring written material to life by infusing it with personality, intonations, and emotions—while a monotone recitation will put the audience to sleep. Is your piece angry? Painful? Joyous? Make sure your reading reflects the mood of the work.
7. Be aware of your body language. By practicing in front of a mirror, you can catch quirky problems that might distract your audience, like pacing back and forth, swaying from side to side, chewing your bottom lip, or twirling your hair.
8. Regulate your speed. Again, practicing in advance will help you focus on not speeding through the reading or drawing out each syllable until the audience is comatose. Aim for a natural speed, clear and steady.
9. Respect your allotted time. You know how uncomfortable it is when an Academy Award winner goes over the time limit and that “time’s up!” music begins to play? Leave the audience wanting more, not wanting out.
10. Relax. If you’re tense, agitated, or petrified out of your skull, it will come across in your reading. And it will be what people remember about you and your work. Even if you’re scared, take a deep breath and come prepared and well rehearsed. Concentrate on the sound of your work, the rhythm and power of your words.
Still nervous? Here are a few more tips for public readings:
- Keep a bottle of water nearby for a dry mouth. (A little lip balm before your reading can help too.)
- Arrive on time, with time to spare, so you aren’t rushing to the stage, sweaty and disheveled.
- Consider using slash marks to indicate good places to pause and make eye contact with the audience. (Hint: Use your finger or a bookmark to keep track of where you are on the page so you don’t lose your place.)
- Use a big font; it’s hard to read when you’re trembling!
- Look your best. Dress professionally but comfortably so you aren’t tugging at straps or restricted by pants that are too tight.
- Bring the latest copy of your writing bio if someone else will be introducing you.
- If you make a mistake, lose your place, or have a temporary brain freeze, don’t take it too seriously. Laugh at yourself, and the audience will laugh with you—not AT you.
One last thought: Remember that the people in the audience are there because they WANT to hear what you’ve written. The odds of success are in your favor even before you open your mouth to read!
Is your public reading coupled with a book signing? Check this out: 10 Tips For A Successful Book Signing.
These are great tips! Sometimes I’ll go to poetry readings simply to watch how the readers handle the stress…you know, sort of learn from other people’s mistakes.
Practice definitely makes perfect. I always practice reading out loud.
Thanks for the tips! Super helpful as always.
I’ll try to keep this list handy when I become a big famous author 😉
I love this article and the advice, especially #5 admonishing. “Maintain eye contact.” I consider maintaining eye contact crucial, but I would combine this advice with: “Arrive on time, with time to spare, so you aren’t rushing to the stage, sweaty and disheveled.”
The greatest technique I discovered is arriving early to surprize the fist members of your audience by approaching them with your picture flyer! It never fails to generate terrific vibes!
During the reading make frequent eye contact with your fresh admirers whose radiant presence gives you a tremendous kick in the pants all throughout.
Tad Wojnicki Israel
I joined a local Toastmasters club to learn even more about how I communicate in front of a group or in one-on-one conversations. The things I’ve learned from my participation in the variety of talks I’ve given, not to mention the help of a mentor, have more than paid for the low price of dues I’ve paid in this 90-year-old non-profit organization.