Hello again! Recently, I did a reading at Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fifth annual Art & Words Show (for a look at last year’s show, see this post). I fully admit that I was terrified, even though I was as prepared as I could possibly be. It’s always unnerving to speak in front of a large group of people (or a small group, or anyone for that matter), at least to me. So, I thought I would share a few of the tips I received before my graduation reading at Stonecoast, along with a couple of my own rituals.
1. Practice. In order to read aloud well, you have to read the piece out loud. This seems like common sense, but a lot of people don’t do it. It’s how you learn what lines or phrases trip you up. It’s how you get a feel for the rhythm of the piece. For me, it’s how I figure out where to take breaths since I run out of air quicker than most. I tend to practice once a day or so for at least two weeks (mostly because I get anxious if I don’t). You can practice in front of loved ones, or you can be like me and do it in front of the computer. My desktop usually has pictures of people, so I get the feeling of eyes on me, but if I screw up, no one actually witnesses it. But yeah, practice.
2. Don’t expect a distraction free environment. If you only practice in complete silence with no one around, distractions during the actual reading are more likely to be noticeable. And let’s be honest, try as they might, the people who put these things together can’t guarantee absolute silence. Be prepared for a cellphone going off or a door opening/closing or someone coughing or whatever. I practice with my phone on and Dad bustling around in the other room and the dog wandering around and all that. It makes ignoring the minor distractions during the actual reading much easier.
3. Wear something you feel confident and comfortable in. If you look and feel good, it makes standing (or sitting) in front of people much easier. It can’t be just one or the other. If you feel smokin’ hot, but your legs are cramping up from those stilettos you aren’t used to wearing, your focus is going to be elsewhere. On the flipside, if you show up in sweats and fuzzy slippers while everyone else is business casual, you’re going to feel out of place and your focus will still be affected. So yeah, keep that in mind when picking an outfit.
4. Have things scripted out. This is more for the severe introverts like myself who don’t do well with ad libbing. Write down everything you want to say and practice it along with your reading. That being said, don’t freak out if you have to go off script. You know exactly what you want to say, but you might have to reword it on the fly. It’s terrifying, I know, but I find that if I have what I want to say in front of me, it’s much easier to pick out the main points and work them to fit the situation than it would be if I had to pick them out of thin air.
5. If you’re nearsighted and wear glasses, take them off. I did this for my graduate reading and it made the reading much less intimidating. The audience’s faces became a blur, so I couldn’t see any judgmental looks, but I could see my pages just fine. For this recent reading, I kept my glasses on and kept my eyes on spots just above people or between two people every time I glanced up. Avoid eye contact, but try not to make that avoidance obvious because apparently audiences like it when they think you’re looking at them. It’s weird, but there are ways around it if it makes you nervous.
I admit that I’m not a seasoned reader, so any advice you can offer is welcome. See you next week!