A successful writer is not always an effective speaker. Often an assumption is made that all words are from the same planet. Words written are from a different species than words spoken. More than the thinking eye on the page is needed when listening to words off the page. Voice, body, a mike in sync with all senses of the listener are required.
To capture the listener immediately, the introduction must be need-to-know streamlined. What MUST be given beforehand to help understanding? Unusual words, story synopsis up to point where you begin reading, and key characters. A short thank-you-for-being-here is okay, but your drive on the way, your book pitch, the weather, your nervousness are NOT okay.
The voice is a starry constellation, having many bright points to give it shape. Intonation should be modified by the emotions of your words – louder/softer volume to heighten feelings of selected words. Monotone and sing-song are automaton renderings, NOT in touch with what the words want to feel. Punch is an audible underline of key words, NOT random or accidental, but designed to alert the listener of its importance in the selected reading. Enunciation is a straight road to listener understanding, NOT the roadblocks and detours constructed by mumbling. Practice your pre-marked reading (volume changes and punch), making sure to enunciate. An always-truthful tape recorder might help too!
The rising and falling of timing is everything according Japan’s greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. The EAR and the rest of the fifteen senses take longer than the eye to integrate words so it is crucial to SLOW DOWN. Generally, slower does NOT mean always slower. Speeding up to display excitability, pausing for emphasis, varied breathing for bigger effect can be used to maintain, energize, or revive listeners.
The microphone wants to be your friend. If you follow these tips, you’ll be BFFs! A close, centered mouth is crucial, but don’t stand so close harsh p or tsounds throw vocal bombs at listeners. (Subtly listen for proper distance while giving your introduction.) DO NOT BLOW into the mike as a test! Okay, okay, you can tap ONCE to see if the mike is ON. Paper position, slightly above on podium and centered to mike, is important. When you have no podium, hold your paper slightly to the side and ALWAYS out of the way of the mike. Never, never put the paper in front of your face. Straight-ahead head is best, NOT the head-in-the-sand position where you’re looking down at your papers or bobble-head position where your looking everywhere else. I know you know this, BUT it’s worth repeating: wherever your head goes, your mouth follows, so make sure your mouth is close (but not too close) to the mike and centered.
Let’s talk about the rest of your body! Enhance-or-distract is the guidepost for body movements. That does NOT mean rigid. Use good posture, a few pre-meditated gestures, and eye-contact. Deliberate, conscious breathing enhances stillness. Avoid nervous pacing and swaying, which distracts listeners. Practice finger-tracking your pre-marked paper (with breaks, key words, etc.) to ensure unbroken delivery. When reading aloud, listeners absorb all of you, your words and your being.
Practice alone, in pairs, in small groups, at a friendly open mic. Study successful others. Have a blast!
Interested in practicing your reading skills? Patsy hosts a monthly open mic on the fourth Wednesday of the month from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM at Bridge PAI. Patsy Asuncion, Ed.S. is a poet extraordinaire and WriterHouse Board Member