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March 13, 2014

How to Read Stories Out Loud if You Hate Public Speaking


There are some parts of being a writer that are relatively solitary --- you can hole up in your room with your computer or draft a story in a notebook on a park bench without speaking to a single soul. But as Teenreads intern, MFA student and public speaking-hater Rebecca Czochor knows, some parts are much more public, like particpating in an author reading. If you also dread reading your stories out loud, have no fear --- Rebecca gives some fool-proof tips on going from panicky to pro!

Raise your hand if you HATE public speaking. My hand’s as high as it can go. Unfortunately I’m a writer, and the best way to share my work and get feedback from my friends is reading my stories in public. Anyone who writes knows how nerve-wracking it is to put your story out there. It’s a million times worse when you have to go up to a microphone, sweaty and nervous, and tell your story out loud to a room full of friends and strangers. For five whole minutes I’m a mess. I rush through sentences and trip over names I came up with. I sound like I don’t even know what I’m reading. I don’t pause for laughs. I don’t even pause to take a breath. I just want to get it over with.

But there’s hope for people like me. My school recently held a workshop to solve this very problem. And for the first time, I’m starting to read my stories confidently. So next time you’re scared about sharing your writing, whether at an open mic, a school reading or just out loud to your friends, here’s what you have to do:

1.      Practice! --- I can’t believe how much difference it makes to practice your piece ahead of time. Find a mirror and try reading to yourself. Practice the words or phrases you always get stuck on until they sound perfect.

2.      Slow Down --- A big mistake I used to make was reading WAY too fast. Your audience can’t keep up, and they miss any jokes or neat phrases you have. You wouldn’t want to listen to someone speed-reading, so take a deep breath and slow down!

3.      Deep Breath --- Speaking of breathing, I used to read so fast I didn’t have time to catch my breath. When you take a deep breath and pause, it gives the audience time to wrap their heads around what you just said. Breathing deep from your diaphragm, like a singer, also helps calm your nerves.

4.      Read it Like a Story --- Remember you wrote a story, so read it like one! Make it dramatic.  Do voices for different characters. Have fun with it and try to entertain the audience.

5.      Or Read it Like a Poem --- For poetry, mark important words and line breaks ahead of time so you know what to emphasize and when to take a pause. Find the right rhythm and it’ll make reading a whole lot easier.

6.      Connect --- Remember you have an audience. While it can be scary to read in front of other people, try to include them in your piece. Find a few spots in the room and look up at them every so often (You can even look at a lamp if you’re too nervous to look at a person). 
Posture --- Bring out your yoga skills and try mountain pose. Keep your feet grounded, raise your chest, and lower your shoulders. It’s impossible not to feel confident!

If you’re a writer, don’t be afraid to read out loud. The more you do it, the easier it gets.  And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be reading your work to crowds of adoring fans.  Better start practicing now!