Welcome to Part 3 of Public Speaking for Authors. We started with Organizing Your Talk, then moved to Practicing Your Talk. Today, we discuss doing the prep work for a reading.
Sometimes you’re asked to do a reading, either as part of a talk or as strictly a reading. Even though you know your book - you wrote it, after all - you still need to practice.
1. Find out how much time you’ll have for the reading. Deduct time for someone to introduce you - or for you to introduce yourself. Deduct time for questions and answers. Now, you have an idea of how much time you’ll have for the actual reading.
2. Choose a passage from your book that’s appropriate for the expected audience. If it’s an open audience or children might be there, choose something G-rated. I remember an author reading from a book as part of a Writers’ League event. He was hooked up to a microphone in an open space at Barnes & Noble, our host for the night. Everything was going fine until he got to a tense part of the passage. The more tense it became, the louder he spoke, until he was almost yelling as he read the F-word three times: Fxxk! Fxxk! Fxxk! Those of us with the League almost choked. The CRM’s eye got huge. And a man got up and dragged his kid out of the area.
2. Choose a passage that has a start and an end (especially if the end is a hook that will make your listeners want to buy the book and discover the end for themselves) and can be read in the allotted time. Choose a passage that’s moving or funny or scary or tense or … you get the idea. But it shouldn’t reveal the actual end of the book.
3. Practice beforehand. Record yourself and listen back. Are you reading in a monotone voice? Or are you using inflection and pacing to fit the piece? Are you rushing? Are you remembering to breathe?
4. Mark up your piece. If you don’t want to mark in your book, then type up the passage and print it out to read from. Mark where you want to pause for effect. Put an accent mark over words you want to stress or give a special tone to - or highlight them. Think about the words. What do they mean? How can you use your voice to convey that meaning? If this is really stressful for you, mark where to breathe. Seriously.
5. Practice some more. Make sure as you practice, you stand up, as you will during the actual reading. Look up, look up, look up - don’t train yourself to look down and read in a flat, lifeless voice - or you’ll do it at the reading. Pretend you have an audience and move your focus from imaginary person to imaginary person. Use your eyes and words to pull each person into the story.
6. If you decide to print out the passage, print it out in a large font so it’s easy to read.
7. When you finish reading, pause, look out at the audience. Hold for a beat. Smile. Wait for applause. Then open the floor for questions. After questions, let everyone know you’re available to sign. And point out that you have a sign-up sheet and would appreciate it if they’d fill out their name and email. Promise not to spam them, but let them know if signing the sheet signs them up for a newsletter or an email announcing the next book or what the list will be used for.
You’re done. The first one is always the hardest. But it gets easier. And easier. Trust me. I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on TV, but public speaking and oral interpretation are my specialties. That and knowing how to eat a banana underwater.
After three years of swimming in a mermaid tail with Ralph the Pig, Helen Ginger graduating with a Master’s in Speech with a specialization in Oral Interpretation. She taught Public Speaking at San Antonio College and supervised student teachers for Incarnate Word College. Now, she teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops - and blogs, tweets, edits and consults with other authors on their books.