How to Give a Good Reading - article

Authors want to engage audiences through readings. This is great way to make sales and to get more exposure for your book. One good reading can lead to another. To create a successful reading, you need to understand and control your emotional state. Many authors fear speaking in front of others, but there are some simple steps you can take to help you be calm and confident during a reading. First, think about the worst thing that could happen at the reading. You might forget to zip your fly. You may stumble over your words and everyone laughs. You smile and move on. Imagining the worst will help you overcome your fear.

Now you need to choose a selection to read. You want to choose choice spots in your novel that are full of dialogue and action. You can summarize transitions if you feel that they may not be easy to listen to. You can link together several short sections with these transitions. Engage your audience. Think about what emotions you are evoking in your listeners. You don’t want to jerk them around in a way that leaves them confused, laughing one minute and then hitting them with dark material to plunge them into despair. Make sure that there is a reasonable emotional arc to the selections you choose. 

At the reading, you need to arrive early and check out the lay of the land. You don’t want any unwanted surprises. Get a sense of the room size and find out if there are other readers. If so, determine your position in the queue. Check out the sound system and get familiar with the microphone. It will help calm you if you are not fumbling in front of the audience with the AV equipment. Another thing you can do to help on the night of your reading is to salt the audience with a few friends. Some friendly faces may be just what you need to be comfortable.

When you step up to the podium, make eye contact. Find a comfortable posture and don’t pass up an opportunity to crack a joke. Spontaneous humor may put your audience at ease and make them more receptive to your material. Be polite. If you have some material that isn’t appropriate for children, be sure to mention it. When you launch into the reading, keep up the eye contact. Always take a positive attitude even if the audience seems bored. They may be distracted by things out of your control.

Finally think about what you wear to a reading. Avoid wild prints. Solids work best, especially for press photos. A colorful scarf or tie might be a nice splash of color but remember you want to showcase your writing, not your wild fashion sense.
Take this advice to heart and then go out there and “break a leg.”

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  • Thank you for the thoughts and advice I will be reading poetry so it will be interesting to see if I can hold their attention. It will also be interesting to see if I can get the emotion across.
  • Hi Ralph - Thanks for your feedback on this great article. Molly isn't on staff with the ALC full time so let me see if I can help. I think the number of 'hops' you can incorporate will depend on the time you have for the reading, the audience you are speaking to, and the basic principles around adult attention spans. For instance, most adults will only pay attention for a few seconds before their mind starts to drift a bit and it's really hard to hold their attention for more than 15 minutes when the activity is not interactive for them. So you can't go on and on for an hour and expect to keep the audience. But a few well connected and transitioned pieces is likely to have a good effect because it recaptures their attention each time you transition, without you keeping them in any one piece for so long that they start to fade out. Remember to be responsive to the audience. Note how they respond to the transitions and be prepared to adjust if you aren't getting the response you want. Hope that helps. Good luck with your readings!
  • Thanks for the good advice. The performance part of readings is not an issue. The selection of material to read is the question. You suggest that I can chose several good sections, tie them together with some transitional commentary, keeping them consistent. How many hops can we get away with and what sort of time factor do you suggest?
  • Molly, I love what you wrote. I love your smile as well! However, I get emotional and cry so easily when I read a page to my friends. How do I avoid this? and is it terrible if this happens during a reading?
  • what do you mean when you say let a college student do it for you?