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Reading your Work in Public

A good way to get you and your writing known is to read aloud at festivals and other literary events. Here are some tips to guide you through selecting the right piece, to the performance itself.

Preparation

  1. Choose a piece that stands alone. Action is more appealing than introspection. Give plenty of mental pictures. Dialogue can be difficult for an audience to follow, so if you include dialogue, make sure the audience knows who is talking. If you are skilled in adopting different voices, this could be your time to shine.
  2. Be respectful of other performers by keeping within the word/time limit. Remember, the time limit includes introductions by the host. If your passage is too long, can it be edited? Edit it also if you find you stumble over difficult words.
  3. Increase the font size. Underline or italicise words for emphasis. Mark up pauses on the page. Print single sided and staple pages together, if necessary, to keep them in order.
  4. Practise reading in front of a mirror (see next section points 5, 6, 7 and 8).
  5. Practise until you are completely familiar with it.
  6. Practise!

On the Night

  1. Dress for the occasion and for the content of your piece. Most likely, you will be standing to perform, make sure your shoes are comfortable and won’t have you teetering about.
  2. The performance starts the moment you stand up and move to the microphone. Own the floor.
  3. The host may ask you a few warm up questions about your writing. Once they hand over to you, you could briefly outline setting in time and place, but avoid a long introduction – this will eat into your reading time.
  4. Then, when you are ready to begin the reading, count three Mississippis.
  5. Hold the paper with one hand. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and keep your feet still. Use natural gestures of face and arms. Don’t forget to smile, at least at the end, if not more often.
  6. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your own voice. Emphasise your strengths when reading aloud. Replicate the highs and lows of natural speech.
  7. Slow your reading speed to around 100 words per minute. It might seem ultra-slow to you, but don’t forget most, if not all, of your audience will be hearing this passage for the first time.
  8. Make eye contact with your audience.
  9. If you stumble over a word, move on, rather than draw attention to it.
  10. Allow a slight pause at the end of your reading, then smile and/or say ‘Thank you’ to indicate you have finished. Don’t crumple your work or throw it on the floor. If you treat it like rubbish how can you expect the audience to respect it? Exit the stage with as much poise as you entered.

Acknowledgement

This guidance is based on a workshop for students of MA Creative Writing run by Professor Lucy English at Bath Spa University.

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