Having done three whole readings now, I feel something of an expert on the subject. Actually, the truth is, I went to an excellent masterclass on giving readings (part of the Story Shop 2011 programme), run by Alex Gillon. I wasn’t selected to read in front of the eagle-eyed (and eagle-eared) Alex but I learnt a great deal. In fact, it completely changed my thoughts on the subject. Highly recommended, if you get the chance.
I still haven’t told you the best bit – being a Parent Of Young Children actually helps with readings… I know, I’m excited too. More on this at the end.
Here are some ideas I found useful; some gleaned from Alex’s masterclass, some from a practice session with a few fellow Story Shoppers and some from my own (ahem) extensive experience.
1. Colour your words – figuratively speaking. Alex’s lovely phrase for savouring the special words in your text: slow down for them, feel them on your tongue, allow the audience to really hear them.
2. Colour your words – my rather literal interpretation – I went through my text with a highlighter (actually a few different colours, yup, that’s how
anally retentive organised I am) to show emphasis and to show when different characters were speaking. This helped me stay on track when confronted with an actual audience. And a microphone.
3. Pause slightly between direct speech and the speech tag – this helps your listeners understand what is direct speech and what isn’t.
Here’s an example. Say you wrote:
“Darling,” said Jeremy, “Is that your thigh?”
This is how you would read it:
“Darling,” [PAUSE] said Jeremy, [PAUSE] “Is that your thigh?”
It is disconcerting when, as a listener, you suddenly find yourself adrift in someone’s narrative, wondering who is saying what.
4. Read dramatically – yuss sirree! Interestingly, nearly everyone seemed to think they were completely over-thesping things but actually, everyone who tried it sounded much, much more engaging.
5. If you are doing an intro, make it distinct from the reading – apparently at first, it wasn’t clear when my intro finished… and my story started. Sounds pretty basic, I know, but it’s easy to overlook this sort of (very important) thing when you can’t see yourself.
6. Practice, practice, practice – I have used imovie to record myself in the past; a truly horrendous experience but it did help. I also found it helpful doing practice readings. According to Mr Enemy of Art, I rock back and forth on the balls of my feet when I’m nervous. Hmmm, just a shade quirkier than I’m comfortable with…
7. Say your thank you’s – Is there a sponsor? An organiser? Thank them – profusely! Is there an audience? Thank them!
8. Practice reading aloud – When Alex suggested that reading stuff aloud on a frequent basis will improve one’s skills, a few participants looked a bit quizzical. I, on the other hand, only just managed to stop myself from thrusting my hand skywards and shouting “Miss! Miss! I do that already! I do that every night!” Fortunately for all concerned I was able to contain my excitement. However, it does feel good to be enjoying the bedtime story AND knowing I’m improving my presentation skills…
So the children are now being subjected to a considerably more dramatic readings. My first attempt was met with The Oldest (5) saying ‘You sound funny, Mummy’ (and he meant funny-weird, not funny-funny). However, now they seem to be enjoying it; so am I.
As for my reading, It went just fine; in fact better than fine, it went well.
- Was I nervous? Extremely.
- Did I enjoy it? Yes.
- Would I do it again? In a flash!
If you want to check to see if I paused after direct speech, you can hear me here, link active until the end of September.
PS for more on the subject of readings, a quick internet search came up with Authors Dish on Stage Presence: “Un-Mic Before You Throw Up”