This is not a “how to” article about Sopranos-style whackings. Instead, it’s a primer on reading from your book in a way that will leave a lasting impression on your audience. Here are five key tips:
Tip #1. Don’t be boring! People may assume that boring speakers are boring writers. Rather than choosing one or two long passages, it may be better to read numerous short passages, interspersed with personal reflections about those passages (how you came to write them, what it was like to revise them, your thoughts as you were writing them, etc.). Be a storyteller. Stories are guaranteed to capture the interest of the audience.
Tip #2. Project your voice. I’ve attended some readings in which authors buried their heads in their books, softly reading long passages in a monotone. Some of the audience couldn’t understand a word that was being said. Other didn’t care to. Yikes! That’s no way to sell yourself and your books. When you do a reading, think of yourself as an actor, rather than a writer. Read with attitude. If you have trouble projecting your voice, plan in advance to use a microphone.
Tip #3. Seek audience participation. “Just listening” is a lost art. You may want to do a short reading first. Then get the audience involved. Ask them what they’d like to hear. If some of them have already read your book, ask what their favorite parts were. You could discuss these parts, offering some fresh insights and/or choose a selection from these parts for reading. And don’t forget, if the program is being taped (perhaps to be shown later on cable TV), be sure that the audience comments become part of the program. If it’s not possible to have a microphone for audience use, you can always summarize audience comments for the benefit of those watching at home.
Tip #4. Acquire a presentation style that is uniquely your own. One way to do this is to observe other authors (on Book TV, for example; or at your local library) “performing” before a live audience. You can see what works and what doesn’t, what you might like to try, and what you definitely want to avoid. Also, listening to audio books may help you to become a better reader of your own work. Providing variety in the tone, level, and pace of your voice will go a long way in capturing and holding the attention of your audience.
Tip #5. Choose readings that are somewhat complete, yet leave something hanging too. You want to have a hook that entices people to read the book. Remember the old serialized movies? Especially the episodes ending with events such as the beautiful heroine tied to the railroad tracks, seemingly helpless in the face of an ongoing train? Isn’t that where we want to leave our audience? Just like those movie audiences-so glad they came, but begging for more!
Gail Farrelly (farrelly@andromeda.Rutgers.edu) is an Associate Professor of Accounting at Rutgers University and the author of two paperback mystery books, “Beaned in Boston” and “Duped by Derivatives.”