Ten Tip-Top Tips for Surviving an Encounter with an Audience
So you’re published! Well done, and enjoy the moment.
And now you find that the most difficult part of writing a book is persuading people to read it. You’ve probably jostled with others on social media and publicised yourself as much as you dare, knowing that even a rationed little can quickly become too much.
Then one day you get the invitation; somebody wants you to read at an event! It may be a small gathering at a local library, a book group, or if you’re very lucky a bookshop launch or a literary event. You may be sharing the stage with others, or – scary stuff – you may be the main attraction. Eek!
Don’t turn it down. Being a bit apprehensive is perfectly natural, but there is nothing to beat real contact with your readers, and each appearance may send the magic network in a new direction.
Having had experience from both sides of the table,here are my top ten tips:
1. Don’t let being nervous worry you. It’s OK. Most readers/speakers are.
2.Wear something you feel both good and comfortable in, nothing that’s going to malfunction or pinch. That’s one potential anxiety out of the way.
3. Don’t eat (or drink!) too much, too close to speaking, and ask to have a glass of water handy, if your hosts haven’t already provided one.
4.You may have natural good posture, but if not, practise standing (or sitting) tall with your shoulders back and down without leaning back. Good, relaxed posture will ensure that you present as confident and authoritative.
5. Remember that the audience is there because they want to be; they are interested in you and your book, and know they will be expected to buy one! That is, of course, if you have copies for sale. And if so, keep the pile on the table small, with spares in a box or bag underneath. It could be embarrassing being left with horribly obvious stacks of unsold copies, although you don’t want to be caught short either.
6. Use eye contact. Be familiar with your material to such an extent that you can keep looking up without losing your place, and exploit the intimacy of a small audience to your advantage. Unless you are on a stage where the light is shining in your eyes, the audience is visible. Use this fact, and glance briefly at individual faces. Not the same ones every time!
7. Focus outwards, send your rays out into the audience. Look at the faces, react to the expressions with little nods and smiles or eyebrow movements as appropriate. Don’t be afraid to move around, unless there’s a static mic (usually isn’t), or even come round and sit on the front of the table (this says “I like you, and want to be closer to you”). You love your book; let that enthusiasm carry you.
8. Don’t rush it. Many readers gabble through their reading, racing to get the thing over with. This can ruin a reading; I’ve heard seasoned authors canter through a piece at such speed that their listeners can’t get hold of the meaning, let alone enjoy the nuances and finer points of the writing. After all, you know what it’s about, but this is the first time most of them will have heard it. You are there to entertain them, so don’t be afraid to enter right into the spirit and act it, as if you were telling a child a bedtime story. Perhaps omit the animal impressions.
9. Rehearse the pieces you plan to read. Practise aloud, again and again and again. You don’t have to know it by heart, but it really does help to know what’s coming next, and to be aware of when the audience might laugh, sigh, gasp, need to digest, etc. A technique I use is to mark the text where I’ll need to take a vital breath, and where it might be easy to stumble or emphasise the wrong word – it can be a lifesaver! And if you go wrong, if you trip up or make a mistake, so what? Smile briefly, say sorry if you must, forgive yourself instantly, and continue. Nobody will mind, or remember afterwards.
10. And go in with a positive attitude, telling yourself you’re going to enjoy your time in the spotlight. Your pleasure will transmit. You will never again have a first book, so make the most of it.
Break a leg!