Five Tips to Nail Your Public Reading

One thing I see a lot of in our local writing community is public readings, where a writer stands before an audience and reads a segment of their work. If you’re a writer, but you’ve never attended a public reading, you should consider it. It’s a great way to get a taste of different styles and story subject matter, not to mention a sneak peek at upcoming projects from other hardworking writers.

Even better, writers—consider participating in a public reading. Not only will it be a good way to get your name out there, it also offers you a chance to see public reaction to your story or essay. While I usually write stories about subjects and plotlines that I personally would enjoy reading, I have to admit that without other readers, my stories are just words on digital “paper.” An audience is the final element in the satisfaction of writing, at least for me. Sharing a bit of your work in a public reading is a tease, a way to spark interest in your work.

Tomorrow I’ll be participating in my third reading, two organized through The Muse Writers Center for students of Muse classes, and one facilitated by the Hampton Roads Writers (which was also a public critique with pro writers). Here are the top five things I learned.

1. Prepare ahead of time. Do not wait until the last minute or, worse, show up at the reading and “wing it.” Select your excerpt, then practice reading it aloud at least once—more is better. Know your material so that fumbles are less likely, and you’ll be able to glance up from your manuscript to make eye contact with your audience. Practice in front of a mirror, or record your practice sessions so you can catch any nervous twitches and avoid them when you step up to the mic. It’s also helpful to know your venue. Is it large? Small? What kind of acoustics do they have? Is there a stage? A sound system? Adequate lighting?

2. Speak up. Don’t mumble or whisper. Hold your head high and speak from your diaphragm (or at least directly into the mic). Speak so that the person in the far back corner will hear every word. Do not speed-read. Read at a comfortable rate. Speak slowly and clearly so your audience can understand.

3. Respect your time limit. If you’re given a five-minute slot, don’t read for seven minutes. Other readers are awaiting their chance, and the organizers often have a tight schedule. Do your bit, then sit back down. This is where your practice comes in handy, since you’ve timed yourself and know exactly where in your manuscript you must stop on the night of the reading. Right?

4. Know your audience. Don’t read hard sci-fi to a general audience. Don’t read erotica to a church group. Further, be aware of, and prepared for, the impact your words might have on anyone listening. One of my readings was of a very short flash piece about a random shooting from a victim’s POV. It’s no surprise that my audience was not expecting such a thing. Many of them sat open-mouthed as I read. One woman told me later she had a dear friend who died in such a shooting; for her, my story triggered awful memories and she almost walked out. While I knew my story was shocking, I didn’t expect that. It’s made me more aware of how my words may affect those around me.

5. Have fun with it. It helps to remember you are not being judged. And don’t worry if you do stumble over the words. Many times, members of the audience are other writers or family/loved ones of writers. They know what it’s like not only to struggle to tell your best story in the best way, but also to then bare your soul by sharing your hard work with strangers. They will support you. So relax. And stay after to mingle with the audience. A writing community is a great asset; a public reading is an excellent opportunity to cultivate that support network for yourself.

These are lessons gleaned from my own personal experience. Other websites also offer great tips to help you prepare for a public reading: Carve Magazine; Portland Review; Women Writers, Women’s Books; and Gigi Rosenberg’s page.

It’s also helpful to attend a few readings before you take the stage (so to speak). If nothing else, you’ll be supporting your fellow writers, which is always welcome.

For locals, tomorrow night’s reading is sponsored by The Muse Writer’s Center, and will start at 7:00 p.m. at La Bella Restaurant, 738 West 22nd Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Come early and join us for good food, delightful entertainment, and a great group of people.

Approach the Mic by Marcos Luiz on Unsplash
Mirror Practice by Min An from Pexels
Audience by Tyler Delgado on Unsplash
Applause by Hayley Seibel on Unsplash