Tips on how to give a public reading

Ever find yourself asked to give a public reading of your work? Or suffer through a reading given by someone who hadn’t prepared quite right? Here are some great tips on how to give a reading from Rebecca Roland.

Giving a reading is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I love getting reactions from the audience as I read. Sometimes I’m surprised when the area I thought was amusing produces no chuckles but other areas make the audience laugh. Giving a reading is similar to attending a play you’ve written in that you get real-time reactions from the crowd.

I’ve given a handful of readings over the years, all of them short stories. At my launch party for Shards of History, I’ll be giving my first reading from an excerpt of a novel. Getting up in front of a crowd always excites those butterflies in my stomach. I’ve learned a few things to help calm those butterflies, and I’d love to share them with you.

One of the best investments I ever made as a writer was to take an acting class. By doing improv and getting immediate reactions from my audience, I learned to relax in front of people when all that attention (eek!) is directed at me. In fact, I learned to like it! It’s exhilerating and empowering to share a bit of one’s work with people.

When you’re giving a reading from an excerpt of longer work, it’s important to choose a piece that can stand alone without creating any confusion. For example, I chose a portion from the second chapter of Shards of History that involves only two characters. If I were going to give a longer reading, I’d feel more comfortable with using a portion that included three or more characters, but I think including too many in a shorter time period could make it difficult for the audience to follow along.

It’s definitely a good idea to read the piece aloud at least once before you get in front of a crowd so that you can find those awkward words or sentences that sound just fine when you read silently to yourself but might have a completely different meaning when heard. If you want, you can include notes to yourself about where to pause, where to breathe, where to raise or lower your voice for dramatic effect.

Even if you plan on having a microphone, there’s always the possibility that it might not work when it comes time for your reading. If that should happen, or if you don’t have a microphone, you’ll want to project your voice in such a way that even the people in the very back of the room can easily hear you. What I do in such a situation is pick a person or an object in the last row or at the back of the room and think about projecting my voice to that part of the space.

Make eye contact from time to time. Pick somebody in the room’s center, to your left, and to your right, and find them every so often so that you don’t keep your head buried in the pages that you’re reading. This will help you not only project your voice, but will also give the entire crowd the feeling that you’re making a connection with them.

Finally, remember why you wrote this piece in the first place. Bring back that passion and use it to breathe life into your words while you read them aloud. People are there to hear how you bring your story to life. One of the things I recall when getting in front of a crowd and those butterflies are out of control is that everybody there wants to see you succeed. They’re excited and happy for you, and they’re looking to be entertained. So take a deep breath, smile, and have fun!

[Check out these pictures and notes from Rebecca Roland's recent launch party and reading.]

Rebecca Roland, World Weaver PressRebecca Roland’s first novel, Shards of History is available now.  She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she writes primarily fantasy and horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Everyday Fiction, Uncle John’s Flush Fiction and in Stupefying Stories, and she is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s usually spending time with her family, torturing patients as a physical therapist, or eating way too much chocolate. You can find her online at Spice of Life, her blog, or follow her on Twitter @rebecca_roland.

Top photo credit: “Young girl reading” from the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums set Harrison Burgess and the South Shields Photographic Society. A glass slide showing a traditional portrait of a young girl reading a book. The slide is from some time between 1920 and 1930.

About World Weaver Press Guest Blogger

World Weaver Press invites many guest bloggers to join us in our discussion of fantasy and science fiction. Opinions expressed by guest bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of World Weaver Press, its staff, or authors.

Posted on September 13, 2012, in fantasy, from the authors of WWP, World Weaver Press and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with Rebecca\’s comments. We have all heard people who stick their nose in their book and deliver beautifully crafted words in a monotone. We have also heard people who can entertain us by reading the phone book. Who do we want listen to? Which person creats a more favorable impression? A reading is a performance pure and simple. Sure, the words are important but we should practice our readings as if we were performing in a play. Traditional storytellers do this all the time with great effect.

    The spoken word is very different from the written word. The most beautiful prose in the world is lifeless and forgetable when delivered with a flat affect. When we talk to each other, we subconsciously look for the speaker\’s visual and tonal cues; we respond to auditory rhythms and word spacing; and we intuitively understand changes in pitch and timbre that denote dialogue from different speakers. These cues illuminate, animate, and decorate the story. They create a bridge to the audience\’s imagination. They give it a soul.

    It is pure hubris to think that words alone will move an audience. To make a good impression, the delivery should reflect all the passion we infused into our prose. Easy? No. But neither is writing.

    Thanks for the post.

    Like this

  2. Rebecca is soo right, not just about giving a reading, but public speaking in general. I’ve had to give several presentations and speeches. (one of which was a presentation to the CEO of a company about what he was doing ‘wrong’) It is very hard to capture the feeling you want and sound thoroughly invested in the topic if you are reading it for the first time out loud. Public Speaking is like any skill, practice, especially over practice, makes perfect.

    Like this

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