Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

Writers' Corner

November 27, 2012

You’ve gotta know how to read out loud

By GERALD WARFIELD | Special to the Index

If you’re like most of us, there’ll come a time when you’ll be asked to read something you’ve written. 

That’s right, read aloud to an audience.

Perhaps it will be for a church program, or perhaps a “paper” for a business conference. Wanna know how not to bore people to death? The secrets are two: first you write a “script”—not a paper or an article—and second you don’t “read” it, you present it.

How many “talks” have you had to sit through wishing you were somewhere else? And how many times have you spoken in public with that sinking feeling inside that you weren’t very interesting? Getting up in front on an audience may make you nervous, and maybe you’re afraid that you’ll lose your place, but one thing you must learn if you are ever to give an effective presentation is that reading slavishly—getting every word right—is not very interesting.

Try listening to a conversation sometimes and think how it would be written down. It’s not just that there are hems and haws, the sentence structure is looser, the focus is not as precise, and the sentences aren’t necessarily even logical.  To get technical, information is packed more loosely in conversation than it is in written form. Writing is not written down talk.

It’s true. So next time you have to give a talk, write a script, don’t write an article. Make it conversational. And memorize it as best you can. You don’t have to have it down pat, but become familiar enough with the material so that you can recite short passages while looking up at your audience. Then make the structure of the talk as easy as possible. If you have a long sentence, turn it into two sentences. And enunciate. If your mouth doesn’t feel odd, then you aren’t doing it right.

Presenting to an audience requires that you enunciate much more clearly than you would in a normal conversation. Get used to your mouth and jaw moving and pronounce your consonances. Don’t hesitate to use gestures and facial expressions.

So what about writers who read from their books? They are reading written words. That’s true. But it’s very difficult to do, successfully. Usually they read less dense passages, parts that are more accessible. More important, they know how to read aloud, and a few are masters at it. Neil Gaiman, writer of comics (“The Sandman”), novels (“The Graveyard Book”) and films (“Beowulf”) created something of a scandal for receiving $45,000 for a reading in a library in Stillwater, Minn. That’s a lot of money for a public address, but to be fair, Mr. Gaiman gave it all to charity.

To hear a master at work, listen to him read from “The Graveyard Book” on the Internet at http://www.mousecircus.com/videotour.aspx.

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