I like doing readings. It’s great to be in front of people in a tavern, a bookstore, a lit event at a library, reading your words to a crowd. Even if that crowd is five people. Yes, I’ve had that happen. Just the other night, in fact. Sometimes reading events just don’t work out the way you hope. Still, you knuckle down and do it. You read with the same enthusiasm and with the same love of the words as you would for a hundred people.
There is a trick to reading aloud for an audience. Some authors are not very good at it. I attended a reading for a well-known bestselling author a few years ago (I won’t say who—It was NOT Billy Collins) who was an awful reader of his own work. Reading takes a bit of acting, if you will. Now, I’m not suggesting I am the world’s greatest live reader. I’m not. But I think I do know how to approach it and mostly my readings have gone pretty well.
Here are a five tips for reading your work to a live audience.
1. Choose something that is self-contained—a scene, a chapter—something that has a reasonable beginning, middle, and end. A part of a book that needs too much explanation before reading or while reading doesn’t work. It slows down your pace and energy.
2. Read slower than you think you should. Reading aloud takes patience. Don’t rush it.
3. Vary your pace. When the action is cranking, read faster. When that lovely moment in the story is emerging, slow down.
4. Keep up the volume. Depending on where you read, be sure people can hear you. If there’s a microphone, use it if the room is big. If it’s a small place, I suggest NOT using the microphone. It destroys the intimacy.
5. Look at your audience. Try your best to lift your head and look around the room. Smile. Laugh when appropriate. Be present.
Keep these in mind when you do a radio interview, too. Obviously the microphone is necessary and you may not have a “live” audience in studio. But they are out there. That’s for certain.
I recently broadcast a recorded reading for a radio station, WNIJ outside Chicago. And although I think I could have been a bit livelier with this read, I think it went pretty well. Take a look and listen to the first chapter of my memoir, October Song.
Oh, one final thought about reading to an audience. Have fun. It should be fun. And if you have fun, your audience will, too.