Qualified to give advice? Two days ago I gave my first public reading in front of a literary crowd – I survived!
Research showed me that most ‘How to’ guides appeared, to be written by confident, experienced speakers. This guide is not by one of those, but by someone who would rather suffer multiple root-canal extractions without anesthetic; swim the Irish Sea covered in Tesco’s duck fat, or be filmed self-administering a black coffee enema for BBC2 than stand in front of more than three people and speak.
These tips worked (for me).
Grow roots: Shifting around in front of an audience is for evangelist preachers, seasoned performers and actors. If you are none of these, stand with shoulders back, feet slightly apart, tummy and bottom tucked in. Then imagine roots growing out of your feet to anchor you solidly in position. This may seem a tad silly; however, for the truly terrified it’s critical. When faced with a sea of expectant faces, odd desires occur: an irresistible longing to sway (to the rhythm of Lady in Red); a need to continuous rub your calf with your toes, and God forbid this ever happens to you, the overwhelming yearning to hop. None of these ticks will add gravity to your speech and the audience WILL notice.
Release your hands: Although, swaying, scratching and hopping are off the menu. The same rule doesn’t apply to your hands. Stiff white knuckles gripping your perfectly typed speech are not attractive. Limited hand movement can, not only, distract the audience from your newly acquired ruddy completion, but add (limited) interest.
Trust your own text: Make sure your written grammar is perfect (makes reading easier), then practice your speech and projecting your voice. Looking in the mirror while doing this is NOT helpful – it’s distracting. It’s your words you’re interested in not the extra few pounds you’re carrying or the dust in the corner of the frame.
Get mad: If you overhear someone make a less than complimentary comment even one that was said a while ago. Use it! Get mad! There is nothing like a bit of ‘I’ll show them’ to give you confidence.
save till later
Dutch Courage doesn’t work:Drink water before you speak. Fruit juice will spill down the front of your clothes; fizzy drink will give you (very public) wind. And alcohol lies; you will not be funnier, cooler or more attractive. In the same vein, and speaking from experience: do not eat peanuts before speaking. They leave little nut droppings in your teeth, that fly like white bullets, spraying the front row with second-hand nuts
Keep clothes on:Gaze over the audience. If you make eye contact, you run the very real danger of imagining them naked. Notions of sagging apricot nipples and excess body hair don’t improve focus.
People care less that you think: Most people are mildly rooting for you, but on the whole couldn’t give a …! They’re waiting for their turn to speak; furtively checking to see if the bar is open yet, while marveling at your ability to hop continually for fifteen minutes.
Does anyone have other tips? I’d love to read them.
The Sunshine Rants
What is it about the Dutch and closing roads? Not like the UK where you get shot in the face if your bin is overlapping the kerb, in Dutchyland half the city can be shut down overnight without the slightest provocation, resulting in gridlocks stretching back to f@*!ing Germany. Cutting a hedge? Close the road. Fancy an impromptu street party? Close the road. Walking the dog? Close the road. Importantly, don’t tell anyone, surprise them during the morning rush hour, or when they’re trying to get to the airport. Of course, if you’re on a bike in Holland, none of this matters. People on bikes ignore these inconveniences. People on bikes in Holland will cycle through the middle of roadworks through trenches, over wet concrete, down railway lines, up trees, through peoples lounges. On a bike?. Doesn’t matter. Cycle the wrong way up one way streets, four abreast on a main road, ignore road junctions. Doesn’t matter. Do anything you want. Doesn’t matter.
In a car? You might as well have a windscreen sticker reading ‘kiddie fiddler’.
f@*! This. Today I’m going to beat them at their own game. I’m going to cycle in, and on the way I’m going to kick over some f@*!ing roadworks..