How to Give a Good ReadingIt’s the day of your reading.

You’re running through your mental checklist. You’re a little nervous. You’re stressed about how many people are going to show up. You’ve tried on three different outfits and none of them seem right. And amidst all this you’re expected to deliver to the audience a captivating performance.

How? Well, hopefully a mixture of great writing, a receptive crowd, and a smidge of charisma. But how can you increase your odds in each of those three categories?

Carrie Etter has written an article that might help you boost the magic and trim the fat from your next reading. It’s called “Things Not to Do When Reading Your Poetry to an Audience” — and while it mentions poetry in the title, the same rules apply no matter what genre you’re reading. Check out the article in its entirety HERE, or read my quick summary below.

At your next reading,..

1. do NOT go over your allotted time. Keep an eye on the clock.

2. do NOT get drunk or high. It’s not charming.

3. do NOT mumble or whisper. Enunciate!

4. do NOT apologize for your work.

5. do NOT by shy about the mic. Project!

6. do NOT read something you just finished writing that day.

7. do NOT read from a laptop or smartphone.

8. Do NOT arrive late.

9. do NOT ask for more time.

10. do NOT rock on your feet or pace around.

11. do NOT fidget with things in your pockets.

12. do NOT give long-winded introductions to each piece you read.

13. do NOT ignore the other readers. Be respectful!

14. do NOT read with the same tone of voice the whole time. Change it up.

15. do NOT ignore the audience. Make eye contact.

16. do NOT flip through pages upon finishing one poem or story. Pace yourself.

17. do NOT brag about where your work has been or will be published.

18. do NOT name drop or brag about which other writers enjoy your work.

… and if I can add a few of my own suggestions:

19. do NOT read a bunch of poems or stories that have a similar emotional register or form. Keep the reading dynamic.

20. do NOT forget to bring books to sell and an email signup list.

21. do NOT forget to thank the audience, the venue, the other readers, and whoever helped book and promote the event.

Well, that’s a pretty thorough list of don’ts. Got any to add? How about things you absolutely SHOULD do at a reading? Let me know in the comments section below.

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[Photo of guy about to read from Shutterstock.]

Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 570 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard’s Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of “Short Works Poetry.”

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