The Shy Person’s Guide to Giving a Reading

11 May

 

I used to be shy.  I don’t mean a little shy.  I mean the type of shy that held me back from different opportunities.  It wasn’t that I lacked confidence in my abilities.  I just felt uncomfortable having attention focused on me.  Writing therefore seemed like a great career choice—except that, as I soon discovered, writing involves a fair amount of speaking.  If you’re a journalist, for example, you’re tracking people down and asking them oftentimes personal questions.  However, even if you’re a creative writer, these days it seems like you have to be a speaker as well.

It’s all part of that wonderful word we’ve come to know all too well: “platform.”  A writer needs to build their following and promote their work through readings and interviews.  If you’ve been sitting alone in a dark makeshift home office, you might relish these opportunities to speak to someone other than your pet bird.  However, many writers, even if they’re not shy, are introverts.  Which means, even they’re not shy, they’re not necessarily the type to seek out big crowds of people.  When I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing last month, so many people who approached me (not something a shy person would necessarily do) afterwards told me that they’re introverts.

I remember giving my first big oral presentation in fourth grade.  As the shyest person in the class, I was certainly not looking forward to it.  However, the day of the oral presentations came, and I was just fine.  You know who fainted?  The popular kid in class.

These days I don’t dread public speaking.  It’s not an activity that gives me great pleasure, the way some people love karaoke or acting, but I generally don’t mind public speaking.  I’ve even been encouraged by it.

Here are a couple tips for public speaking I’ve learned through trial and error:::

Get plenty of sleep 48 hours in advance.  Being tired will make you feel anxious.  Try to get a decent amount of sleep the two nights before the reading.  I say two nights because you can’t just cram in sleep.

Drink plenty of water 48 hours in advance.  Don’t drink anything too close to your reading time.  When you’re nervous, you might feel like you need to pee more often.  However, you should be hydrated because speaking loudly can make your throat parched.  Also, lay off the caffeine and alcohol.  I know a lot of writers have notoriously drank to overcome their nerves.  Jack Kerouac was one of them.  And everyone knows it.  Do you really want to be that person?  While caffeine will make you anxious and make you sound like the Micromachines man, zooming through your reading, alcohol might make you slur your speech.  Stick with water.

Dress up.  When I was in undergrad, I used to dress up whenever I had a big test.  It may sound superficial, but dressing up gave me confidence.  When you give a reading, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the occasion.  I won’t mention the specific name of the awards ceremony, but I went to a book award ceremony a while back and was dismayed at the authors’ appearances.  They looked unkempt.  Yes, I know what matters more your inner character and your talents, however if you’re receiving an award or have been selected to give a reading, you should be respectful in your attire and dress for the occasion.  Besides, there are very few opportunities when we get to dress up.  Why let Hollywood stars have all the fun??

Be prepared.  Practice your reading several times.  Type your talk up in a large enough font that you don’t have to hold the paper close to your face to read it.  It may also be helpful to write little notes or add extra spaces reminding yourself to breathe, to look up, to smile.

Be thankful.  Being selected to give a reading is not a punishment.  It’s an honor.  People are celebrating your writing talents.  They’re making time in their busy schedules to hear you.  You’re already a star in their mind.  You don’t have to change who you are and pretend to be a stand-up comedian or loudmouth if that’s not who you are.  You just have to be yourself and be gracious.

 

If you happen to be in New York City, I cordially invite you to attend my reading this Friday, May 11.  It will be a super short reading sometime between 5pm and 9:30pm, at Lang Center, 2nd Floor, 55 W. 13th Street.

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