When you’re a writer, it sometimes becomes necessary to read your work in public. And really, it can be kind of fun. A lot of times, it seems like half the battle of being a writer is getting people to read your stuff, so forcing a room full of people to sit and listen to your brilliance is kind of awesome.
However, if you’re like me and suffer from crippling anxiety, the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of people can be . . . well, terrifying. I want to share my work with other people, but I also want them to stop looking at me.
I once asked my therapist if I could pull a Sia and stand with my back to the audience or just wear a giant wig so no one could see my face. He told me I could, but he gave me a few other suggestions as an alternative to wearing a wig and a bow the size of a smart car.
1. Practice, practice, practice! Read your work out loud before the actual event. You’ll find tough spots that might trip you up so you can iron them out. Plus, you can practice your pacing so that you don’t go too fast; you don’t want to sound like a disclaimer at the end of a pill commercial. If possible, read your work to a significant other or trusted friend who will give you honest feedback.
2. Record yourself. I hate watching myself on camera, but it can be hugely beneficial to your public speaking. Set up your laptop and record a video of yourself reading your work. That way, you’ll notice any nervous fidgeting you do and check your posture. No one wants to watch you read while you’re hunched over like Gollum.
3. Check out your local Toastmaster group. It’s usually free to show up for a couple sessions and you can test out material on an impartial group of people. Plus, public speaking is kind of their thing so they really know what they’re doing.
4. Take a shot. I don’t usually like to encourage drinking, but sometimes a shot of liquid courage will do you some good. But make sure it’s only one–throwing up from drinking and throwing up from nerves is still throwing up in the middle of your reading. Once, before a reading, I stopped at a nearby bar to visit my best friend who was bartending and ordered a shot for courage. Because she loves me and felt bad about not being able to attend, she poured me a triple. I drank it down and realized I had to hurry to get to my reading. It was the middle of summer and very hot outside so by the time I arrived, I was sweating Jameson out of my pores because nothing says professional like showing up smelling like Irish whiskey.
Don’t do what I did. One shot is more than enough.
5. Relax. Perhaps the best piece of advice my therapist gave me was to remind me that no one shows up to a reading hoping for the author to fail. The audience wants to hear your work and they want you to do well. So take a breath, drink some water, and have fun!
As a bonus, here’s a video of me doing a reading for a local literary group. Please note the deep breath and twitchy movements and learn from my mistakes 😉
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