Don’t have a background in drama?  No experience with public speaking?  It’s OK.  Relax.  You can still excel at reading your work aloud.  Select a dramatic excerpt, build the intensity and practice!  You’ll entertain the crowd and your work will be remembered.

Here are some tips for reading your fiction aloud:

  • Select the right piece. If you’re given a time limit, select an excerpt that fits within the time frame, but don’t be afraid to customize it.  Cut and paste sections if need be.  You want to build excitement to a climax to keep the audience interested, so begin at a place where you’ll be able to increase the tension until the end.
  • Climb a stairway to drama. Think of the piece you’re reading as a rise of stairs.  Start on the first step and build the intensity slowly as you arrive to the climax.  Mark places in your manuscript where you believe the tension mounts to a new step.  With each step you should be a bit louder, a bit more expressive.
  • The sound of music. Your story could be brilliant, but if it’s delivered in monotone, the audience will quickly lose interest.  Your voice is an instrument.  Think of reading as a way to strike different musical notes, some high, some low, some just middle C.  Mark your text with places to increase or decrease the pitch and intensity of your voice based upon the emotions expressed in the work.
  • Be the character you created. Immerse yourself in your character’s world the way you did when you first wrote the words on the page.  Remember the backstory you invented as well as your character’s journey.  All the creative energy you used to develop your character and story should be summoned to draw upon as you read.
  • Practice. Stand in front of a mirror while you read.  Make sure you take moments to look ahead; don’t stare down at the paper the entire time.  Record yourself and listen/watch the playback.  Are you mumbling or enunciating too much?  Ask family and friends to be your mock audience.
  • Scan ahead. If you’ve read your piece in practice enough times, you’ll be able to memorize lines.  While reading, you’ll therefore have a moment to scan a line or two ahead so you can remember to put specific emphasis on an upcoming speech or emotional moment.  Print your work in a large font if that helps you read more easily.
  • Look at the audience. Remember practicing in the mirror?  Now make eye contact with individual people for a second or two at a time.  If you find that distracting, look at someone’s forehead instead.  You’ll appear to be looking directly at the person behind them.
  • Project. Don’t yell, but speak in a volume so that the person in the very last row can hear you.

Try to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Don’t apologize if you make a mistake.  Just keep going.
  • If you drop something, pick it up. Leave a pen on the floor, and the audience’s attention will be drawn to the bothersome ballpoint. They’ll keep wondering when you’re going to reclaim it.
  • Don’t attempt accents. Many people can’t do them well.  Done poorly, they’ll distract rather than enhance.

Most of all, have fun.  Enjoy yourself and the audience.  Don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect.  You’ll gain confidence with each reading and you’ll be invited to read at future events.