We all read out loud.
It’s part of daily life. But what many of us don’t realize is that reading out loud is a skill, and, with a little practice, it can be honed in a way that transforms anything we say.
A mediocre story can become something fantastic with one simple tweak—the voice-acting of the narrator who breathes it to life. A well-written piece of communication can catch fire in a crowd when delivered by an eloquent and passionate performer.
Not everyone is a theater geek like me who loves to combine stage training with the delivery of a message or story, but almost all of us are forced to read out loud in a public or semi-public setting on a regular basis. After considering this, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. You don’t have to be an extrovert to speak well in front of people. Introverts are fully capable and equally gifted at this.
From my history of delivering speeches, telling stories, and communicating through many mediums, I’ve drafted some tips and tricks that will help anyone improve and even electrify their skills at reading out loud.
- Pre-Read Your Content
The chances of tripping over a word or mistaking it for its similar but incorrect cousin are almost zero if you’re already familiar with your content. Pre-read it out loud.
- Select Your Tone
Everything you read has some sort of attitude. If you’re reading a comedic piece, determine whether your stance is lighthearted or sardonic. If you are delivering a long list of information, decide what bullet points deserve the most focus. If your message is an urgent one, you must know this.
- Mark Your Beats
Once you grasp the content and appropriate tone for the piece, mark your manuscript. I find this easiest on printed paper, but you can make notes on an electronic document as well. The big trick: Look for where an audible pause in speech would underline your meaning. In theater, these pauses are called “beats.” Add another other annotations that will help you remember your tone and emphasis for when you read out loud.
- Establish the Cast
For a speech on one subject, you might have just one voice for the piece. For a short story involving three characters, you will need three voices. You don’t have to make your young boy talk with a high pitched squeak, and your jazz diva doesn’t have to talk in a honey-coated rumble (though you’re free to try it!). The primary goal is to keep the voices distinct from each other.
- Visualize Your Setting
If your reading will be delivered in a large room or hall, you’ll need to use a large voice to fill it, no matter how delicate the content. If your reading will take place in a circle of armchairs by a fireplace, you’re allowed to play with the subtler nuances of murmurs and soft volumes. Plan accordingly.
- Read Slowly. Never Rush It.
This last piece of advice, along with the first piece of advice are the most important. A rushed speech is hard to understand at best, and makes the reader sound ill-prepared and nervous at worst. Reading slowly may take some practice before it feels comfortable. Watch a video of a public speaker and note the speed/flow of words. It is actually quite slow, which allows listeners to absorb and interact with the message. Practice your reading several times, if necessary. It makes reading slower easier.
If reading out loud is something new for you, be prepared to feel silly at first. I’ve embarrassed myself loads of times, especially when I tried to don foreign accents for some of my characters and failed. But remember this—the life that you give to the written word when you devote yourself to a vivid delivery of reading out loud is absolutely worth a few embarrassments. The story is so much better for it.
I’ll say it again: the most important thing is to be familiar with your content (Tip #1). As fun as it is to dash something off, then instantly share it (if you’re reading out loud your own work) or to rapidly skim something great and then leap up to share it (if you’re reading out loud someone else’s work) if you take the time to give the writing a careful look over, consider your tone, mark the beats, number your cast (if there is one), plan for your setting, you will be ready to deliver your message in a way that has listeners hanging on your every word. Because you’re giving more than a reading.
You’re giving a life-infused, confident performance.