Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting my first public reading of Secrets in Seaport at my local library to help kick off their series of exciting summer events. Not only was it my first time doing this sort of thing, it was also the first time I’d eaten a snow cone. And believe me, after standing outside in the heat for so long, it was enjoyed quite thoroughly (until it started dripping on my white shirt)! 😛
Public readings are a great way to promote a book. Charles Dickens used to travel far and wide to read his books for audiences. I understand that sometimes, when he’d go through a whole book at once, the versions he read aloud were abridged. It’s no surprise he was so sought-out and successful in his time. He knew how to promote his writings in an engaging way.
Back to the present, I read a chapter and a half to my audience of young people (despite my fears, some of the intended age group showed up too), and it seemed to sit well with them. I’m relieved, not only by their attentiveness, but the thunderous applause I was given afterwards!
Prior to the event, I prepared my performance for a good few weeks at home, reading the first two chapters of SIS several times over until I had it pretty much down pat. Sometimes I practiced in front of my family; sometimes, I did not. In hindsight, think I should’ve done a bit more practice in front of people. With a fake microphone. (How about an un-ignited, plastic lightsaber?)
I hadn’t anticipated some factors, like the size of my stage, and the fact that I might be holding a microphone. So there I was, mic in one hand, book in the other, turning the pages with my pinky. 😀
Here are some tips that I can give based on my experiences based on what I did then and what I’m going to do instead in the future:
1) Stay hydrated and avoid foods that make you sound like an aged rock star. Unless, of course, you’re doing, like, a Rolling Stones or Aerosmith tribute band or something. Then I’d encourage you to make your singing voice sound horrible. 😀 Pretty much, avoid spicy foods, sugary drinks, nuts, and dairy products. Some say tea is good, some say it’s bad. I guess it depends on the tea (and I include herbal “tea” in this category). Pretty much, I ate mostly bland foods and avoided anything with almonds and a lot of rich, creamy dairy in them. I think my efforts worked.
2) Don’t look at the audience. This can actually be very distracting. Plus, isn’t it true that an audience tends to be more attentive when you make a little eye contact here and there? The week before my reading, I happened to be reading Theodore Boone: the Activist by John Grisham (which was quite good, by the way), and there’s a scene where the author mentions offhand one of the techniques Theo uses when he’s speaking in front of crowds: Pick three spots in front of you, off in the distance and just above the audience members’ heads, to glance at periodically. That way, it seems to the audience that you’re looking at them, but you’re not. Plus, if you’re nervous and seeing peoples’ faces in the crowd – or seeing a crowd in general – freaks you out, you don’t have to hide behind your papers.
3) Practice in front of people. That could be family members, your friends, even a row of dolls. (In fact, I dare you to rehearse in front of a crowd of Monster High dolls. Mwahahaha!) That way, it’s a little less freaky when you’re facing a crowd. You’re already used to embarrassing yourself in front of people. 😛 And practice often, assuming your crowd is willing to hear you read the same old thing more than once.
4) Do not let me eat pears. Nah, just kidding.
5) Do character voices, but don’t overdo them. Originally, I several had unique voices planned out for all of my characters in the reading. Aunt Melanie’s voice was supposed to be loud, obnoxious, and a bit too cheery to the point of annoyingness. That’s just her character. My gut feeling, however, was to tone the annoyance factor down big-time, and I think that turned out to be a good move. The coolest voice I ended up doing, though, was this grouchy old seaman’s voice that alternated between sounding like an Irish accent and a stereotypical western cowboy. It was fun.
6) Summarize. Before you start reading from the book, try to generally summarize the story a bit first. Include some non-spoiling details, like where it takes place, and who the main characters are. That way, your audience knows what they’re getting into.
7) Read slowly. Deliberately go out of your way to read your book out slower than you intend. Your audience will have an easier time following what you’re saying, since they’re much less familiar with the words they’re hearing.
8) Be thankful. Always thank your audience and thank the powers that be who made it possible for you to be at your speaking engagement today, either before, after, or both. And make sure you sound sincere. As they say in I Love Lucy, “Smile when you say it.” 🙂
Overall, this was a wonderful learning experience for me, and come to think of it, it’s probably great prep for narrating that audiobook I’m thinking of doing someday….