I just returned from four content-packed days at the Type A Parent Conference in Atlanta, where I was not only thrilled to present on my favorite topic – the power of personal storytelling to engage your readers – I was also honored with a “We Still Blog” award in the humor category for my post “Apple Hell: A Fun Fall Family Tradition.”
As part of the award ceremony, I was lucky enough to read my piece aloud to the conference, which is one of my favorite things to do. I’m an introvert who loves an audience. Go figure. Check out the video, below:
Reading my work at the Type A Parent Conference got me to thinking, what are the ingredients of great author readings? Here are ten quick tips to help you make the most of any opportunities that come your way to perform your work. And if no one is asking you to read live? Seek out places where you can do just that. Storytelling is powerful stuff, y’all, and never more so than when shared in community.
1. SLOW DOWN. Like way, way down. I have a naturally speedy speaking voice, to the point where, back in my attorney days, an East Texas court reporter stopped the proceedings cold to tell me to take a breath. If you’re nervous, you’ll likely pick up the pace even more. Speak so slowly that it feels weird to you. That’s probably just the right pace.
2. MARK UP YOUR TEXT so you know what to emphasize, when to pause, and how to break up your phrasing.
3. PRACTICE. You don’t want to sound overly rehearsed, but you do need to know your stuff so you aren’t stumbling over phrases. You also need to decide on tone and inflection. The piece I read had dialogue in four voices – me, my two girls, and the apple orchard dude – so I had to choose how I would differentiate the characters without full-blown acting (which nobody wants to watch me attempt).
4. RECORD YOURSELF. You need to know both what you sound like and what you look like. So record yourself and listen for verbal tics (the dreaded “um” or a weird nervous laugh) and watch for physical tics (wiping hair from your eyes or fiddling with your glasses).
5. BREATHE. You can’t get to the end of a long sentence without a breath, so breathe naturally. It’s not a race.
6. GIVE MEANING TO EVERY WORD. Make the word “cold” feel cold. Make the word “cozy” feel cozy. The author Midge Raymond puts this nicely: “[F]eel every word. . . . words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them . . . hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness.”
7. REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE. You aren’t reading in a vacuum. There’s a live audience in front of you who will be reacting to your words. Plan for pauses when you want a salient point to sink in. Allow time for expected laughs so you aren’t talking over your best lines.
8. CALCULATE TIME. Use this speech-to-minutes converter to figure out how long it will take to read your piece.
9. LISTEN TO OTHER AUTHORS. Awesome examples:
* David Sedaris on The Late Show with David Letterman reading “Stadium Pal” from When You Are Engulfed In Flames (2008)
* Tyler Coates, “Listen to 15 Literary Icons Reading Their Own Work” (Flavorwire)
10. USE YOUR PERFORMANCE AS AN EDITING TOOL. Don’t shy away from performing your works in progress. Read this great article from Fast Company on the value of reading unpolished works and using audience reaction as an editing tool. (Using Sedaris as an example, again.)
Want to read your own story out loud? There’s nothing more powerful than witnessing each other’s stories. That’s why I always close my online classes in The Storyteller’s Studio with a Google Hangout where each student has the opportunity to perform the essay they’ve worked so hard on.
My next class starts OCTOBER 19th, so there’s still time to join my fall creative nonfiction bootcamp and hone your storytelling skills. Click HERE to sign up now for 30 Days to Your Best Blog Post Ever!
Notice: This post contains an affiliate link for the Type A Parent Conference, which means I receive a commission if you register for any events on that page. I highly recommend you check out their upcoming schedule!