Since presenting “From the Page to The Stage” folks have asked for tips to bring their writing to life at public reading events. I’m more than happy to comply.

What to Read? What will you read? What is the purpose? Who is your audience? Choose/edit/revise your piece to be entertaining, informative, motivating, or educational.

 Get Ready! The Venue

  • Visualize the room: Where are you comfortable sitting? Who is the contact person? Who is the tech person? If the lights, mic or temp goes, who’s the fixer? Who else is on the agenda? How much time is set aside for you? If it’s an 8-minute limit, respect that. Who is introducing you? Send them 3-5 sentences about you. Bring a copy to the event also.
  • Size- big room, big gestures and v. v. What is the layout?
  • Practice! Go over your reading/speech out loud. Time it. Do it again. And again. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of real people.
  • You’ve got this! Avoid looking like you are clutching your book. Know if there will be steps/stage. Approach from the left holding book in left hand. Do not lean or tap on the podium. If you have a tendency to do this, move two steps away from it.

Contact me if you are interested in my detailed Event Intake .docx – a one-pager that will help you organize for any event. Get the demographics and other info on that sheet, and then focus on your reading.

10 Ideas Specific to Readings/Keynotes/Presentations.  You

  1. Do not drink: Ice water (constricts vocal cords), coffee with cream (can create mucus & throat-clearing). YES: Room temperature liquids. Save alcohol for later.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Things to remember: “People are coming to be entertained and have a good time. You can too.” “You have a piece of great value that no one else has written.”
  4. Use your voice and body to convey ideas, emotions, attitudes, and intentions of the piece. To some degree, it’s like acting. Your vocal and body cues will allow listeners to recreate the characters and concepts in their mind.
  5. If you read directly from your book, hold it in the palm of one hand to avoid looking like you are clutching. (Here’s where Bill’s idea in Ready to Read Part I is brilliant!)
  6. Will there be a podium, table, or raised surface in front of you to use? Hold material low enough so your face is not hidden. Will you be standing, sitting, both?
  7. Look up occasionally at the audience. Familiarity with your material means you will not lose your place when you gaze up and then back at your book.
  8. Your style: Written work may need editing/condensing/word substitutions for reading aloud. A reading event is so different from reading at home. Listeners cannot go back a few pages to clarify. Make it clear the first time.
  9. Use facial expressions according to the mood. Smiles, grimaces, frowns, sadness. Body language–shiver, shrink, take a bold stance. Match your style to the mood and the character.
  10. Turn the words in your book into a reading with emotional impact!

Voice Characteristics

Analyze your piece: What is the most important part? Build to it with volume, pace, inflection, and pauses. Underline or highlight words that will get emphasis. Use different voice characteristics, especially if you’re reading dialogue. Then eliminate the dialogue tags.

  • Tempo: The speed at which you read. The average rate of speaking in most Western societies is 120-150 words a minute. This varies according to the mood. Dramatize by slowing down or speeding up. If you are a fast talker when you are jittery, slow down even more. If you speak slowly when nervous, keep an even pace in mind.
  • Volume: For effect–softer/louder.
  • Pitch: Low or high. Low often indicates gloom or foreboding; high indicates excitement.
  • Inflection: Upward inflection carries the listener forward and adds tension. Downward indicates finality.
  • Pause: A pause is one of the most valuable tools in public speaking. Use pauses at the beginning, during, and ending a reading or presentation. Pausing before you begin settles you and attracts the audience’s attention. Pauses generate anticipation, or allow the audience to reflect on a point just made. Longer pauses indicate emotion. When finished, pause to allow the audience to applaud, and give you that standing ovation.
  • Punctuation gives clues: Comma= pause. Period= slighter longer pause. Exclamation point= usually more volume. Question mark= changed inflection.

You’re ready!

©From the Page to the Stage 2019 Ethel Lee-Miller

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic.