Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public Speaking for Authors: Preparing for a Reading

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.

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  1. Great points again, Helen!

    I'm no fan of readings, but now I know what I'll do if I'm asked to give one.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Readings can be boring or they can be effective. You, the author, have to make the words come alive. I'm not talking about shouting them, but using your voice to make the reader feel the words and get drawn into the story.

  3. I'm so glad I "met" you, Helen. This is a wonderfully helpful series you're doing here. Thank you.

  4. You're welcome, Karen. I'm glad I met you, too. I truly believe my life has expanded through Internet friends.

  5. Awesome tips. A reading is actually my favorite type of appearance and I always try to squeeze it in.

    A reading can make or break an event, too, so doing it effectively is vital.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. I just did a reading about a month ago - I wish I would have had this information then! At least now I'll be better prepared for the next one. Thanks.

  7. After all my bragging about having no qualms about public speaking, I have to be honest here and say I do not like readings at all! I don't like to do them and I don't like to hear them unless they are very short!

    The only one I really liked hearing was Wm. Kent Krueger reading his prologue to one of his books that wasn't published yet and he wanted to know if it was too brutal.


  8. If you're going to do a reading, it really needs to be a section that will pull in the reader and make them have to have the book - and you have to do a good job at presenting that piece!

  9. Great post, Helen. Especially liked your reminder to be aware of the audience and keep readings rated "G". I had to quickly skip a couple of words in one of my readings when I saw a few children in the audience. And sometimes I do that even if there aren't children because not everyone likes to hear some of the language my characters use.

    Also agree that the readings should be short and compelling. Been to some where the author droned on for about 15 minutes. Would have left if I wasn't sitting near the front. :-)

  10. Oh boy! You make this sound real. Food for dreams...

  11. Maryann, sounds like your advice would be: never sit in the front. Sometimes, that's good advice!

  12. I'm bad at oral interpretation. Worse than bad. If I ever need to give a reading, I now know who to call for help!

  13. Carol, one thing about talking or doing readings - practice may not make perfect but it will make improvements. Practice on tape so you can hear it back or practice on family (family or friends that will give you honest feedback).

  14. That makes me feel a bit hot and cold just reading it! I think the advice to record yourself and listen to it is excellent. Past experience has taught me that my voice goes very 'breathy' and quiet when I'm nervous and looking down makes the problem much worse. Being confident about the material makes speaking publically about it much easier.


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