One might think that reading your own writing aloud—to an audience—is a straightforward, even simple thing. In fact, it is not. The writer who taught me that was Charles Dickens.
I had known about Dickens’ public readings. They were, apparently, famously superb, and attracted huge audiences. But it was a chance visit to New York City’s famed Morgan Library which taught me how he prepared for such performances.
On display was his reading script of A Christmas Carol, a work he often performed. It consisted of a published edition of his book. But here was the revelation: he had altered the written text into a performing text.
He took out the “he saids” and “she saids”—because he could differentiate character voices sufficiently with his voice. He cut parts of the expository text where it went on too long. He cut text so as to intensify the action. He added text to help his audience understand what was happening.
The key message was this: an audience that LISTENS to text responds differently than an individual READING text.
I suspect that most librarians and teachers—and even authors—who read text, even of their own composition, feel duty–bound to respect the text to the ultimate degree, sharing each and every word. Take it from Dickens: that’s not so.
Also, before I began to do readings—either solo performances, or with a group such as Authors Readers Theatre—I took voice lessons. I found a class called “Voice for Actors.” Wonderfully helpful. Among other things I learned:
How to stand.
How to pitch your voice so as to maximize emotional value.
How to pace oneself, not just as a performer, but so an audience can absorb what you are saying.
How to alter the voice for different characters.
I hasten to say this is all about methodology, not any particular skill.
Finally, consult a good reference such as The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Such a guide understands that some books read aloud better than others.
I promise that if you consider all of this, and do it, you can fully engage your audience with reading.