Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Promote Your Writing: 4 Tips for Public Readings

This article includes tips that will help you read your work like a pro. Public readings are a great way to increase your following, boost your profile among other writers, and in some cases attract an agent. Two years ago, as an unpublished fiction writer, I read with a group of novelists. After my reading, an agent approached me. Of the five readers that night, I was the only one who had memorized and acted out his work. (Once I finish my novel, I will send it to the agent.)

<editors note: most of these tips were originally developed by professional actor and live-performance coach, Michael Mack. He is directing me in my one-man show, "The Chronic Single's Handbook.">

1) Buy a Mic and Stand and Practice at Home


Pros handle the mic, like, well, pros. Amateurs handle the mic like they're afraid of it, like it might bite. You want to be able to adjust mic height and remove the mic from the stand without having to enlist the host or audio technician. You want grab the mic with authority, like you've done this thousands of time before. 

If you are reading multiple scenes, you can let the audience know that there's a change coming by either adusting the mic or -- better yet -- removing it from the stand. (This works best when you've memorized your piece -- see tip #4 below.)

I went to a local music store in Boston and bought a cheap mic, stand, and clip for holding the mic on the stand for $42. Before a reading, I set it up in my living room and practice adjusting the height, moving it around like a rock star, and removing and replacing the mic on the stand.

Here's what I bought (before sales tax)
- Cheap stand: Ultra Stand 6521bbk ($20)
- a $4 mic holder that affixes mic to top of stand. (no need to mention brand, just make sure it's the right size.

2) Use Props

 You don't need a trapeze or a flame-thrower, simple stick drawing or other household objects will do. For one of my pieces, the narrator is discussing a spreadsheet he keeps that lists his past girlfriends. When I reach that section of the story, I pull out an Excel page I created on my computer. As I'm reading, I point to the spreadsheet. The audience probably can't see the spreadsheet, but just the act of pulling it out always gets a laugh. (I always keep it in the same pocket -- my front left pocket.)
Here's a video of me performing the piece -- I take out the spreadsheet at around the 1-minute mark)

In another section, that same narrator is offering different theories on why he's still single. During this passage, I put on a pair of nerdy glasses and show the audience child-like, stick-figure drawings to illustrate the author's different theories: The Fish Theory (a drawing of a fish with a frowny face) and The Valency Theory (a simple drawing of a molecule.)

3) Use Gestures and Voices for Scenes with Multiple Characters


Scenes and pieces in which two people are talking can be great for wowing an audience. Just be sure the audience is clear when each character is talking. Some tips for differentiating characters:
- Turn your head one way when one character speaks and the other when the other character speaks. Face forward when offering background or narration.
- Stay on the mic: even when you turn to face different directions, make sure your mouth is within four to six inches of the mic.
- Use different voices: most people can do a Southern accent, Northern accent, and a woman's voice/man's voice -- that's four different characters already.
- Put attributions and dialog tags at the beginning of changes of dialog so the audience know who is talking.

4) Memorize Your Work


This is the best way to stand out from the other readers. With poetry and comedy, performers memorize their work. For some reason, authors reading prose generally read from the page, which can be boring.

Also, if you memorize your piece, you can perform with the mic in hand without the stand. Nothing is more impressive that taking the mic out of the stand -- going bareback -- and moving the stand off to the side or behind you before you start your performance. This move let's the audience know something special is about to happen.

Tips for memorizing:

- Memorize a short segment. You don't need to memorize your entire reading: One three to five-minute section or scene is enough to impress.
- Start practicing a month before the reading. (That is more than enough time.)
- Read the story or passage you want to memorize several times from the page, out loud. Then try to do as much as you can from memory. (After a few tries, I can typically remember the first few paragraphs of a new piece. Remember: you wrote the piece, you know the story.)
- Try to memorize one-page a day. (You don't need to have it down perfect -- you just need to have enough in your head to practice. A double-space page is a little more than a minute of reading.)
- Memorize the plot: first he goes to the bar, the girl approaches him, they dance, he attempts to nibble on her ear, she slaps his face...
- Practice twice a day. Practice sessions can be as short as ten minutes. Practice while waiting for the bus, while in the shower, before meeting with your parole officer.
- Once you have the piece more or less memorized, hard-wire it into your memory by performing it as fast as you can without stopping, ignoring any errors -- just get to the end as fast as possible. This is a good way to eliminate pauses and show you where you still need work.
- Use gestures. The more you practice, the more you'll embed certain sections into muscle memory. You're body will know that when you raise your hand, that's the beginning of section X or section Y.
- Fear is good. If you're like me, you will be terrified. Before your performance, you'll be asking yourself, why do I do this to myself. Just let your mind go -- you've done all you can do, you just have to count on the material being there when you get on stage -- it will be there.
- While performing: If you forget a line or a passage, just keep going. The audience won't know. I recently performed a piece and, when I got a passage, I just blanked and couldn't remember the next section. As I stood on stage rooting around in my mind for the section, I said out loud: "Give me a second, it's in there somewhere." I just never remembered the section and moved onto the next section I could remember. After my performance, people still complimented me. Some asked me if I was an actor.

More Self-Promotion Tips for Writers

Includes two videos of me reading. In one performance at a story slam, I'm so terrified, my hand flops around like it wants to run off he stage and hide. The audience didn't care or didn't notice or gave me their sympathy vote -- whatever, I won the slam.

I consult a small business counselor specializing in helping artists earn a living. His advice is sobering, but useful.


Original Naughty Humor from My New Site: ChronicSingle.com



Art attribution: Microphone photo

By MARCUS NUNES [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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