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Monday, July 11, 2011

Tips for Reading or Presenting

Readings are a performance. The whole purpose is to engage the audience with your writing and get them to want to read more of your work. A flat, dull reading of even the most exciting story will do the exact opposite. These tips are the result of over twenty years working as a teacher and presenter and my flair as a natural ham and storyteller.

1. Think of it as storytelling instead of reading. Pick an exciting scene, whatever scene you love most, then add the drama. If you love what you read, the audience picks up on your excitement and enthusiasm.

2. Enunciation is your friend. Practice speaking in over-exaggerated pronunciation. Open your mouth as wide as you can. Twist your lips over every consonant. Speak like those English supervillains in the movies who linger over every sound that drips from their lips.

At work the other day, a group of the volunteers and I were discussing an upcoming scene in the story we were telling, just to make sure we knew what we were supposed to accomplish with our crew. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go here and read about my day job. It's interactive storytelling taken to a whole new level.) The name of the scene was "Snacks with Mad Dog". The staff member speaking was a teenager and mumbled his words. It sounded like "Sex with Mad Dog", a completely different scene than the one we were planning and one that would get us all fired and involved in all sorts of complicated lawsuits.

Speak clearly and save yourself from unintended embarrassment.

3. Slooooow dooooooown. When nervous, we tend to rush our words. Everything speeds up. Speaking too quickly makes it difficult for your audience to follow along, especially when hearing something new, which your story should be. Speak twice as slow as you think you should and it will be about the right speed for your audience.

4. Project your voice. Theater and singing background really help here. Being mom to eight kids also helps. I can bellow with the best of them. Many people swallow their words, especially when nervous. Projecting your voice means sending it to every corner of the room. Stand up, if you can. Practice good posture- shoulders back and relaxed, back straight, head up. Don't look down at your paper, lift it so you can read comfortably while still keeping your head up. Good posture aligns everything so you get good breaths and good support from your diaphragm and stomach muscles. Your voice automatically gets louder without shouting. Remember that volume comes from your chest and belly, not your throat. Support your voice.

5. Using a microphone can be tricky. Yes, it makes your voice louder, but it requires different techniques than projecting your voice. Don't be afraid of it. Get close but don't touch it with your lips. Watch explosive consonants like p, b, and s. You have to throttle back on those enunciations or your audience gets blasted with microphone explosions. Don't shout, either. Let the microphone do the amplifying. Practice is important if you have never used a microphone before. Find one and practice until you are comfortable with it.

6. Watch out for verbal stutters. Words like "um", "uh", "like", "okay", etc., all break the rhythm of your presentation. People notice although the speaker rarely does. Record yourself reading and presenting then play it back. It's highly embarrassing but very educational. Once you are aware of your stutters, you can work on eliminating them. This is less of a problem with a reading, but it can still happen.

7. Relax and have fun. Practice the bit you are going to read until you know it inside out, upside down, and backwards. You don't want to stumble over words or lose your place. You want a smooth, polished performance. Practice enunciating each word. Practice varying your pitch and expression. Ham it up a bit. Pretend you're a movie announcer or narrator. Make your work come alive through your voice. The audience will respond and want more. If you're having fun, the audience will have fun and isn't that the point of doing a reading?

Good luck!


  1. Great topic! Thanks for the helpful pointers.

  2. You're welcome. I hope you don't have to learn some of this the hard way, like I did.

  3. Great advice - I need to strengthen my presentations.

  4. Wow! There are almost NEVER posts about this! And you're about the most experienced person ever to write about this. Thanks for all the great advice! I'm convinced that some day... SOME DAY(!), I'll need it.

  5. A lot of authors could be better presenters. It's a completely different skill set from writing stories. I'm still baffled by the perception that writers need to write brilliantly, tell wonderful/gripping stories, give Academy-award winning presentations, AND be savvy business people and still have time for marketing and connecting with their readers. Sheesh. Okay, rant over.

    Learning to engage your audience doesn't need to take a lot of time, but it is a great skill to have no matter where you end up. Glad I could help. I've sat through some readings that made my teeth ache. The story was great but the presenter murdered it. I've also sat through some brilliant readings.


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