I was asked to give a short speech at the university tomorrow night about readings. Here’s what I came up with.
I’m sure some of what I have to say won’t be new to you, but it probably bears re-stating. Because I don’t know how many times I’ve been reminded to breathe before I give a reading, and yet find myself gasping for air as soon as I’m off stage. That’s what panic does, it padlocks your handy little public speaking toolbox. So, I’m telling you to breathe, but I’m suggesting you start your deep breathing pattern long before you get to the mic. Start it the first time you practice reading your piece aloud. Take 30 seconds and breathe before you begin. Do it every time as a preparation to reading anything aloud. And read aloud often; read the pieces people send in for workshopping. Read your own piece aloud, over and over and over again. Read to your pets, they probably love the sound of your voice.
Okay. Next, I’m going to suggest you take a moment to yourself when you step up to the mic. Though you may be feeling infinitely thankful to the event organizers, the people who have come to watch, the reader who preceded you… etc…unless you are the host, you are not expected to thank these people before you begin. You are not accepting an award, you are giving a reading. The best way to honour these folks is to give a shit-kicking performance, and the best way to do that is to be in your body when you read. Even if you just spent the last half-hour at your table breathing deeply and squeezing your fingers and toes trying to stay in your body, it may have slipped away from you in that precious few steps to the mic. Don’t worry about anyone but yourself when you’re up there. You are not being selfish. You are being professional. Smile, say “thank you,” take a moment to breathe and focus, shove those shoulders down and begin.
Finally, I’m going to suggest something I just tried myself at the TWS reading on Thursday, and had great success with. Since I tend to power through my readings (and I know I’m not alone in this) I added some friendly, hand written reminders in the margins. Places I really wanted to slow down a little, to deliver an extra punch. I included smiley faces, to remind myself that I was indeed having fun. There will come a time when you will be up on stage and you will see that you have been given absolute control of the energy in the room, and it won’t intimidate you. I remember reading at Douglas College years ago in a room that was lit so you could see the audience. About half way into my last poem, which was kind of a cheeky piece, I leaned in towards the audience conspiratorially, and a hundred people leaned towards me. That’s probably as close to rockstar as a CanLit writer ever gets.