Attention all writers who are performing your work for an audience: please avoid the performance drone. The drone is characterized by work that is unfit for the stage and read in a monotone voice without engaging with your audience in any way, never making eye contact, not taking breaths except when you’re dying from lack of oxygen and reading long passages about nature a la Thomas Hardy.
Here are some tips to make my experience (and others) as audience members more interesting:
1. Just read in a conversational style, like you were talking to your best friend or your grandma, not like you’re lecturing to students. Even if there’s a podium, don’t make a speech. Vary your pitch and volume.
2. Reread your work ahead of time and choose work that will capture the audience’s attention; this means variation in rhythm, good punchy sentences, lots of concrete action and dialogue rather than abstract narrative.
3. Prepare beforehand: read your work aloud; change words you stumble over, edit out the boring bits. If you find the work isn’t compelling when you are reading it aloud to yourself, guess what? Neither will the audience.
4. Don’t get melodramatic on stage; you are not an actor; don’t scream, honk, cry etc unless you’re a sound poet.
5. Don’t read one long monolithic block of text. Divide your reading material up into chunks of about three minutes. Read little bits from different sections of your novel or short story, excerpt from a long poem, a few short poems. The rule of three works for some reason. 3 pieces, 3 paragraphs, 3 poems. Audiences like threes.
6. Don’t read anything that requires a long introduction. Rule of thumb, especially addressed to poets: if the intro is longer than the poem, choose something different. If a poem requires that much explanation, it’s not going to grab your audience.
7. I know you’re scared to death up there, but try to enjoy yourself. Smile. We love you. You know we do. We’re just waiting for the chance to become your groupies. Savour the moment of this performance; you’ll never have it again.
If anyone has any other tips on performance, please share them. Writers need help with this big time. And we audience members will thank you.