The majority of people can barely stomach the idea of having to be up in front of a crowd and speak. It’s caused great men and women to crumble and lesser men and women to fold in on themselves and whither away. It doesn’t have to be like that. Anyone can speak in front of a crowd and, as a writer, more than likely you are going to have to at some point.
For over twenty years I was an actor. I enjoyed performing on Broadway and in theatres across the country. I also taught acting, voice, and movement at two different universities. So speaking in front of people has been not only second nature, but a joy to me for half of my life. So I thought I would take that knowledge and help out my fellow writers with some tips on reading selections from their book to an audience.
You may think this is silly, but the mechanisms that are used to produce your voice have muscle and muscle needs to be warmed up. You know what happens when you do not warm up before you run – you don’t run well. Same thing holds true for speaking. Start your warming up with a gentle humming. After a minute or so, progress to soft speaking (read text or just speak random words). Repeat tongue twisters slowly and build up steam. Finally stretch your tongue and your lips and your jaw. Get that entire vocal mechanism ready to work.
Most people breathe incorrectly. This generally happens around middle grade where the chest becomes important for both boys and girls. At that age people begin to breathe with their chests, which is incorrect. When you breathe incorrectly, your vocal mechanisms can not function at their peak. Correct breathing mechanics follow these “rules”:
- When inhaling the stomach should expand.
- When exhaling the stomach should contract.
If you watch a baby breathing while it sleeps, you will see a perfect example of proper breathing.
When you perform (especially when you’re not used to performing or you are performing something for the first time – like at an audition) the tendency is to speak faster than necessary. This will kill your reading as the audience needs time to savor your words. When you practice your reading, do so slower than you think you should so that when the nervous energy of performing hits you, your reading rate will be much more normal and your audience will have no problem following you.
Drink before you read, as you read, and after you read. You might think tea or coffee would be the best but that is incorrect. Caffeine can wreak havoc on your vocal mechanism. The only liquid you should have with you when you read is water. Water keeps the chords lubricated which will help keep them from damage.
Even if you fear performing in front of an audience, having the ability to speak clearly, safely, and effectively. Remember, that reading is crucial to drawing audience members in. Used wisely, the reading can go a long way to help your sales.