Practice, Practice, Practice: The Art of Reading to an Audience

So you have screwed your courage to the sticking place, and chosen the thing you want to read. Do you just walk in to your reading with the manuscript in your hand, stand up at the mic (if there’s a mic to be had) and start to declaim?

Maybe not.

Okay, then: should you plan to memorize the story and walk in without copy to read from?

Not that, either.

Obviously, you want to practice some, but not to the point where your own words give you a dreary feeling of familiarity. And you want to set yourself up so that reading is as easy as possible. For me, that means printing out a copy of whatever I’m reading in larger than usual type (or, if you’re reading from your laptop or tablet or, ebook, blow the image up a little larger than usual). This is simply good sense: who knows what the light is going to be like where you’re reading? What if you find yourself squinting or bending over your story trying to read it? Why make life more difficult than it needs to be. If I’m doing a reading I generally try to keep the type at 14-16 points.

Then there’s timing. It is pretty much certain that when you’re reading you’re going to speed up. Adrenaline will do that to you. Fear that you won’t be able to read everything you’d meant to read in the time you have can be a factor too. But trust me: no good comes from speeding up. So you read your work aloud to get a sense of how long it takes to read… and then add 10%. Practice reading at what will feel like a glacial pace: if you record and play it back you’ll note that you don’t sound slow–you sound pretty normal. So rehearsing will get you comfortable with the pacing that works for you and your listeners.

Another thing–which may be peculiar to me, but I doubt it–is that in reading your piece aloud you may find infelicities, places where another word would work better, things you might want to change. Reading the text aloud before you have to do it in front of an audience means that you can catch those things, and be less prone to whip out a pencil in the middle of your reading and annotate.

You rehearse your reading for your own sake. You rehearse your reading for the sake of your audience. Cause you want your audience to love your work and want more of it.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Practice, Practice, Practice: The Art of Reading to an Audience — 3 Comments

  1. I used to prefer to read without my glasses, since they were for reading and gave me a fuzzy view of people when I looked up from the page to the audience. For that reason, I am in the habit of printing the piece out in large, dark type. However, one of the times I did this I ended up reading in a place with serious stage lights, which put glare in all the wrong places and made it hard to even see my manuscript. Fortunately, I knew the story well enough that I could keep going even when I couldn’t see the words as well as I wanted to, but …. (It occurs to me now that the stage lights meant I couldn’t have seen the audience in any case, so I should have put on my glasses.)

    I finally broke down and got trifocals with a very tiny correction in the top panel, more correction in the middle for computers, and serious correction at the bottom for print. Now I can read with my glasses on and still look at the audience and actually see people.

  2. I never practice either! But — the great Somtow Sucharitkul showed me how to print out a reading copy, in big font, and then punch it and insert into a 3-hole binder. Then you’re not wrestling with pages in a book, especially a mass-market PB which might be pretty small and tightly bound.
    Read with a pencil in your hand, so you can note anything you want to fix in the margins. Also use a pen (or some other easily distinguishable medium) to mark the places that you want to emphasize, or add notes like SLOW DOWN HERE or LOOK AT AUDIENCE FOR LAUGH at the proper place.