Now, more than ever, says Kirsty Logan, writers have to get out there and build an audience. Think of it like a gig for writers – when it comes to music everyone wants to say, “I heard that band before they were famous,” and the same is true of writers. One of the best ways to be heard is to perform your stories and poems at spoken word nights or literary festivals...
“Ask questions, or if possible go and see the venue beforehand,” says JL Williams, an experienced performer and author of poetry collection Condition of Fire (Shearsman). “For instance – will you be on a stage or in among the audience, will you have a microphone, what will the lighting and acoustics be like?”
Prepare your story too – make sure you’ve read it aloud at least twice, ensuring you won’t stumble over any words or phrases. Print your story double-spaced and in a font big enough for you to read in dim light.
It’s okay to be nervous
Few people enjoy public speaking, but the more you do it the easier it gets. When you get up on stage, take a few deep breaths and find a comfortable stance in front of the microphone. People don’t notice this sort of preparation, but it vastly improves your reading.
Keep it short
“The first rule of performing to an audience is keep it short,” says Kirstin Innes, a writer and co-founder of performance event Words Per Minute. “The best performed stories are self-contained little jewels that hit about seven minutes – that's 1000 words or under. Leave ’em wanting more.”
Don’t be afraid to read off the page
“When I first started reading at open mic nights there was a lot of pressure to have your work memorised,” says JL. “It is wonderful to do if you can as it gives you more connection with the audience – however, if you mess up it can be awful! I developed my technique so I can have the page in front of me but still mostly be looking at the audience.”
Edit for performance
“You don’t have to follow what’s on the page exactly,” says Kirstin. “It’s an engaging reading, rather than absolute fidelity to your narrative, that will get your audience to take further interest in your writing.”
Have a bit of chat
“It depends on the gig – if you’re reading for the Queen you need to be more formal,” says JL. “But I find it’s best to establish a personal connection. Share a little information about yourself or your writing, something funny that happened on the way there, that sort of thing.”
Don't over-explain the story, though: “Read self-contained extracts that don’t require much contextualising – your story should speak for itself,” says Kirstin.
When you’ve finished reading, take a step back from the microphone and thank the audience – then take a moment to enjoy the applause!
Get a music stand
A final tip from JL on how to disguise nerves: “If your hands shake, ask for a music stand to put your work on, or better yet, get one for yourself. I got a lovely one in a charity shop that I take with me to gigs.”
Power of Reading by eisenbahner via Flickr under a (CC BY 2.0) license.
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