Friday, June 5, 2009

Reading Your Work Aloud

I hate public speaking to such an extent that it has become a handicap. Even at lovely events where I should be enjoying myself and my success, I'm busy spazzing out in my head about speaking in public to such an extent that I am for all practical purposes not there. It is shameful and ridiculous. I feel for my audience when I must read my writing in public. All I want is to be through. I can read at a rate that literally makes peoples' heads spin- I've seen it with my own eyes, and let me tell you if members of your audience are battling to keep their heads on straight, I can assure you it inspires little confidence and then it is just a horrible downward spiral from there.

Since I've realised this affliction has become a liability, I am trying to put myself in more and more places where I must speak in public. I do think some of the problem is just lack of practice. Just like anything, every time you have a bit of success it makes it easier the next time.

At a recent workshop I attended, we needed to read some of our writing out loud to the group. I realised a few things. One is that if you are reading and you think you are reading at a BBC Special English pace then you are at the right speed. It makes a difference. People take your writing more seriously if you read slower. You also sound calmer even if you're not. Speedy Gonzales does not give off an aura of a calm guy. Slow and steady is the key.

At the same workshop, I was advised to stop and look up and look around, connect with your audience. I think this also helps with the speedy reading. If you connect with someone in the audience, you will begin to feel that it's more of a conversation as compared to a speech. Conversations I can handle. Speeches are for Obama and Abraham Lincoln- not me.

To be a writer, means at some point if you have any success at all, you will be expected to read your work aloud. In a recent article in The Guardian, Stuart Walton wonders if this is always a good thing. Writers, as in my case, are not always the best readers. They can ruin the writing for the reader, and that's a bad thing. But sometimes a writer can read in such a way that the listener discovers another way to think of the writing. As Walton says, "There is one immense and tangible benefit to me from listening to literature, rather than reading it for yourself, which is that, just sometimes, the voice you are hearing is better at the job than the one inside you."

My goal one day is to be that sort of writer; a writer who can read my own writing and lead the listener to a more interesting place, a place they maybe would not have found on their own without me. Otherwise what's the point of reading our work aloud?

So more public speaking for me. It's a bit like that terrible bitter cough medicine your mother was always forcing down your throat. It's painful, but I know it's for my own good.


Unknown said...

Hi Lauri! Nice piece. I suffer from the same affliction as well. And as you say, practice does make one perfect and delivering a near perfect reading. I have had some really good readings and some not so good ones too.

I'm begining to think that writers have to adapt a stage persona much like the recording artist, so that once we are doing readings, we know it's a performance of sort and thus develop a seperate persona for readings.


Helen Ginger said...

All good advice - practice, slow down, look up. You want the people in the audience to buy your work. The way to make that happen is to connect with them. They have to be able to hear and understand what you're saying and they have to see your eyes and feel a bond with you.

When it's your turn to read, as you walk to the podium, calm yourself. Slow down your breathing. In slowly through your nose. Out slowly through your mouth. Don't rush. Get yourself situated before you start. And don't just read. Make the words live. Try practicing by reading while recording, then play it back.

I used to teach public speaking at San Antonio College. We should live near each other!

Straight From Hel

Sue Guiney said...

True on both counts: it's frightening but also vital. There's a Seinfeld routine that says people place public speaking above death as their greatest fear, which means most people would prefer to be in the box than giving the eulogy. But once you get used to it (and slower down is key) it actually, believe it or not, can be fun :-)

Lauri said...

JD- perhaps you have a point. I listened to Beyonce on Oprah and she talked about how she had a persona for stage that was very unlike herself. I should try that. It might also distance me a bit. Good advice.

Helen- Yes- I think I need you nearer. Any chance you'd like to move to Botswana??? Breathing must be part of it. My last reading was at a high school in Gaborone. I read a 2000 word story in about 10 minutes and then I was panting like I'd run a marathon. I doubt they got anything.

Sue- I have that Seinfield CD! How funny is that? I don't think I'd choose the grave though. I really do want to get to that place where it is fun.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Stage fright! We chose to lock ourselves away in a room to put words on paper, we didn't choose to be singers, actors, performers, and then we are expected to perform. Drat and double drat. My biggest offense is reading too fast as well, I have to slow down. It's not easy. Good luck!

Moroni said...

Hei Lauri good piece.I must admit public speaking has never been my problem (could be i have been in debating teams since god knows when). My advice is start a Toastmasters club or some other public speaking club. Then you can alternate between giving improptu and prepared speeches. The mere idea of carrying off an impromptu speech without much faltering will make you believe more in yourself and give you much needed confidence. My trick for public speaking is to assume that im doing a great public service. That i am this know all out to inform the people in front of me (who therefore are ignorant as opposed to wise, sage me. Once you do that you gotta ask yourself " if i knw all, am I not like a god to them? Are they not spellbound?" Of course you are and they are. Therefore relax, enjoy the show and let it all flow.Failing which you can always imagine your audience naked!haha. I could never do that so i cant say if it works or not. Curious observation: From what i understand you used to be a teacher. They all seem to be good public speakers. How did you handle that?

casa da poesia said...


"Negema wangu binti"

Anonymous said...

It is definitely a common complaint. I envy public speakers who can just get up there and do it.

Thankkfully, I am not too bad at reading aloud. It's nice to know all those years of drama classes weren't wasted after all.

However, I have the opposite problem to you - no one wants me to read my work aloud *pained sigh*

It's a harsh world out there!

Lauri said...

Yes Moroni, I was a teacher and I was never nervouse even singing at assembly! It is very odd and I often wonder why suddenly when it comes to my writing, or when the focus is on me I get nervous. Maybe I must just think of eveyone as my students.

Selma- they'll be breaking down your door soon- just wait. To be honest I'm not asked that often to read either.

Dani said...

Drugs. That's how I got over it. Really. I was diagnosed with a heart condition, and my Dr. prescribed a beta blocker. Miraculously, I never again had stage-fright... or any kind of nervousness. I've discovered since that doctors prescribe the drug to entertainers (and themselves) when the need arises. I no longer take the drug, and still have no problem speaking in public. I think this is because my mind and body were retrained to feel differently in those situations - as though they "know" a new way to react.

In short, I highly recommend drugs. Heh.

Yeah, and don't forget to breathe.


Maxine said...

I am one of the odd ones who doesn't find speaking in public daunting, but your approach to this is fantastic, and this is a really well written post. It helped me, in early days, to think of something which really was difficult in my life, and compare facing the public with that thing. Also, remember that you are never ever as stammering as you think you are. Great post x

Lauri said...

Maxine- I laughed when I read your comment. it was a bit like the advice I was given the first time I was going to give birth. An Irish friend who was living here at the time told me to think of the more useless person I knew who had given birth and then say to myself- She did it, so can it. I suppose I could try that with public speaking.

Dani- You should have never told me about those drugs. This could go very wrong. :)