10 Things I Learned About Reading for an Audience

Tonight, I  did my first public reading as an author. Yes, that’s right. I’ve crossed over into the world of public speaking and readings. If it weren’t for my friend and neighbor, Cathie Borrie, author of The Long Hello, I might not have done it. I would have stayed home in my jammies and waited for life to give me an invitation.

Oh no, tonight, I put on my big girl panties and got out of my comfort zone. Cathie and I attended an open mic night at the BuddhaFull Cafe in North Vancouver, and I committed to read from my upcoming novel, The Watcher.

I’m always nervous sharing my work, so I figured reading in a cafe would be no different than reading for a critique group. But it is. In some ways, it’s more terrifying. You don’t know who these people are or what they’re thinking. What if they don’t want to hear from writers at all–believing that open mic nights are best saved for the musicians and ‘real’ entertainers? In the past, I would have left the open mic nights to the musicians and poetry slammers. But now that I’ve had a taste, found my voice, I don’t think you’re going to get me to stop.

My friend Cathie’s an amazing speaker, so I got a few tips and then insisted she go first, so I could learn from observing. I think I did pretty well for a beginner. I learned a lot. In my crash course, this is what I discovered:

  1. Act like you belong there and you do. Remember to introduce yourself, and give a quick pitch for your book.
  2. There will be distractions. You will need to project your voice over the sound of steaming milk, cash registers, and blenders. It’s just the way of it.
  3. Learn to breathe all the way down to your toes. Your breath will steady you. Your legs may shake (mine did). It’s okay. Only you can tell.
  4. Read slowly. You have no idea how slowly you have to go, until you’ve done it. Don’t be afraid to pause for dramatic effect.
  5. Be the voice of your story. You are the author, yes, but also the narrator’s voice. In this case, I was the voice of a seventeen year old girl. Let yourself feel the character’s feelings as you read. Put those feelings into your voice.
  6. Look at your audience, which means looking up from your paper. Make eye contact. If you are afraid of losing your place, put your thumb beside the last line you read.
  7. Practice first, until you’re comfortable. Which means you’ll have to know what you want to read.
  8. Most importantly. Have fun! If you have fun, the audience will too.
  9. Have a close friend video tape you so you can watch yourself afterwards. Listen for where you can: slow down, speed up, pause for dramatic effect, etc. next time.
  10. Celebrate your achievement. You’ve made your first appearance as an author!


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