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ODB’s Top Tips for a Successful Public Reading

October 27, 2010

With the VIWF successfully behind me, I thought I would share some tricks and tips for a rockin’ performance. Some of these come from personal experience, others from instructors in my program. If you’re embarking on a career as a literary microphone assassin, this post is for you!

1. Take as much time as you need. Sure, you may have been assigned a 5- or 10-minute time slot by the event organizer, and there may be a long list of performers in your group, and the venue may only be booked for a certain amount of time–but you’re a writer, not a mathematician. This is your moment, and after all, no one’s reading is more important than yours. Wow your audience by going above and beyond the time limit, regaling them with a series of cute anecdotes about your personal life and reading as many pieces as you feel deserve to be shared.

2. Swear, swear, swear. It’s the quickest way to get people’s cocksucking attention!

3. Leave the microphone alone. However tall or short the last reader was, just imagine yourself being that height, and go for it! There’s no time to be messing around with the mic, and you haven’t learned how anyway. Trying to manipulate all those knobs and handles will only make you flustered, plus it’ll take valuable time away from what really matters: your reading. The publisher in the back row who’s drawing up a lucrative five-book contract for you to sign later that evening will think twice if he has to watch you fiddle with the mic. Leave that stuff to Steve, the sound guy: it’s his job, even if he only got it by banging the artistic director.

4. Edit your work right before your reading starts. That’s the best time to do it because the performance adrenalin will make your thinking extra clear. And don’t worry if what you write is legible: you’ll totally remember what it says and how it differs from what you previously wrote!

5. Shout it out at a constant volume. Yes, the microphone is there to magnify your voice–but you will be even louder if you yell into it. Look at it this way: loudness is the only difference between talking and spoken word. Varying your voice in accordance with the content and context of your piece will only give away to the audience which parts are boring and don’t need as much of their attention. Ignore the objections of frou-frou avant-garde hipster snobs who would have you practice voice modulation techniques. Take it from me: if it’s worth reading, it’s worth screaming!

6. Practice makes predictable. Rehearsal takes the spark and improvised feel out of a performance. You want your audience to feel like this is the first and only time you’ve read your piece, and the only way to achieve that goal is by ensuring that it actually is the first and only time you’ve read it. The more you practice, the flatter your reading style becomes. If someone wants to be disgusted by lifeless and one-dimensional text that’s been edited into the ground, s/he’ll pick up a book. Your audience will feel privileged to be in the room to hear your very first reading of the piece–umms, uhhhs, and slip-ups included!

7. Print your piece in the smallest font you can read. Did you know that four billion trees die every day so that authors can do public readings? Do your part for the environment by minimizing your show copy to eight-point font or smaller. No matter how many times you lose your place on the page during the performance, the boreal forest will give you a standing ovation.

Now you’re ready to give’r! If you keep these tips in mind, you’re guaranteed to be the most memorable performer at your next reading! I can’t wait to hear it!

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