Of course you can read—you’re reading this, aren’t you? But there’s a difference between reading and giving a reading. Giving a reading (also called doing a reading, or performing a reading) is when you read your work aloud, for an audience. It’s a wonderful chance to showcase your work for a group of potential fans, but too often we see people letting this chance slip through their fingers. The attitude I keep hearing is, “It’s my story, of course I can tell it.” But then these same people get up in front of the crowd and give a performance that is, in a word, boring.
They’re nervous (we all are—you will be too). They rush through their readings as if they just want to get them over with. They stumble over words—repeatedly. They look straight down at their papers, and nowhere else, which makes them hard to hear. The story itself may well be amazing, but the audience is losing interest in it because of the presentation. This is not a good thing. A reading is your chance to grab the audience, and I have four tips here that will help you do just that.
I know you know the story—you wrote it, after all—but there’s a difference between reading something silently and actually speaking the words you’ve thrust onto the page. Occasionally you’ll come across words, or combinations of them, that are difficult to say, and you don’t want to discover them for the first time in front of an audience. They’re there to listen to you, and they are listening, so if your great work is tripping lightly off your tongue, only to screech to a halt when you get to the word inestimable, or the phrase snarling saurian snout, or the like (and you will—we tend to write with a larger vocabulary than we speak), they will notice. Practice will let you find a comfortable rhythm, and let you know where your trouble spots are, so you know when to pay closer attention, or maybe slow down a bit, when doing your reading. Which leads right into my next tip . . .
- Slow down
Do not—I repeat: do not—hurry through your piece. I have difficulty with this one, because I’m from just outside of Boston, and we tend to talk a little fast here; I speak even faster when I’m nervous. But if someone is there to listen to you, then you need to make it easy on them. You want them to enjoy your work, and they can’t enjoy it if they’re missing words, or busy wondering what you just said. Take your conversational speed, and slow it down just a little. If you’re a fast-talker, like me, then you may want to cut your speed by as much as half. It might feel slow and obvious at first, but it doesn’t sound that way: it sounds clear and controlled.
However much you’re slowing down, practice it that way (see item #1). Get hold of a stopwatch somewhere (or, simply click HERE) and time yourself. If you’re reading through 1,000 words in five minutes, you’re too fast. Overall speed will vary, according to diction and cadence, but I’m told 1,000 words should take close to ten minutes. I’m a fast-talker, and I’ve found I’m fairly comfortable at about eight minutes per 1,000 words . . . and that brings me to point three.
- Be as comfortable as you can
If you’re stiff and uncomfortable, you will sound stiff and uncomfortable. People who stand rigid and grip the podium (or table, etc.) as they read tend to slip into a bit of a monotone, and that’s a terrific way to put an audience to sleep. Relax. If you tend to talk with your hands, then, well, talk with your hands. If you need to hold down the page, or keep your place with one finger, then talk with one hand. Don’t slouch—remember, these people can likely see you as well as hear you—but stand a little casual, as if you’re just talking. Because you are, and it’s something you do every day, to lots of people—which, of course, introduces point four:
- Talk to the audience, not the page.
You’re there to tell people your story, or at least an excerpt, so tell it to them. No, that’s not right—tell it to them. I know you’re reading, and you’re going to need to look at the page, but occasionally, look at your audience—or, if looking at the whole audience seems daunting, pick a person and talk to them, just for a moment. See how far away they are? Can they hear you? Are they looking back? If you’re working without a microphone, look at someone on the back of the room. Can they hear you? Tell that person your story for a moment, and just let everyone else listen in to your conversation. If you’re worried about losing your place, look up whenever you reach the end of a page; you have to turn the page anyway, and you know you’re starting at the top when you do, right? The more you connect with your audience—and eye contact is definitely a form of connection—the more they’ll connect with you, and the more they’ll connect with your story. Always a good thing, that.
Tell the story. Sell the story. If you’re writing to entertain, then entertain. If you’re writing to inform, then inform. But whether you want to entertain or inform, you have to keep your audience’s attention. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your writing, in order to make it the best it can be. When you get the chance to showcase some of it—maybe even encourage someone to buy some of it—doesn’t your work deserve your best effort now, as well?
Practice, slow down, be as comfortable as you can, and talk to the audience, not the page. Tell the story the way you hear it in your head. That’s what they’re there to hear; that’s what they want.
Give them what they want to hear.
Rob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, winner of the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in two dozen anthologies and magazines. Most recently, his story “A Night at the Show” received an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, and was also nominated as best short story by the eLiterary Festival of Words.
His latest work, a story collection titled Echoes of Darkness, was released in early 2016 from Books & Boos Press.
For more about Rob, including links to his published works, upcoming events, and a series of very short—but free—stories, please visit him at www.RobSmales.com.