OK, this is pretty niche. But read on. You will be rewarded with a new puppy pic if you do. (Bribing is the new blogging.)

Avid followers of the ol’ blog will maybe recall me quipping that I plan to be an opera singer in my next life. That’s a quip, and not a promise (or threat), since I don’t really believe in next lives or in my opera-singing chops–unless that next life comes with brand-new designer equipment.

However, just as the world was shutting down with the pandemic, and singers were shutting up, I was getting started. Singing became a passion, rekindled from my youth, that I could pursue with gusto–albeit solo–during an otherwise dreary time. Now, provided the pandemic doesn’t throw yet another wrench in the works, I’m practicing my “Ave Maria” (of the Schubert variety) to sing at a wedding ceremony, next month.

Which got me to thinking of another kind of performance: the creative reading. You know, the poet or writer, so awesome on paper, attempts to translate that awesomeness to the air (of your local art gallery, bookstore, or coffeehouse–machines grinding and screaming in the background). We pull for that poet, we really do. We yearn to feel we are in the presence of confident genius. We want to feel enveloped in that voice and meaning. Something akin to Luciano Pavarotti at a football stadium or Celine Dion in Vegas. We want to feel moved. Yet, so often, we feel the poet’s unease, and we can’t enjoy the performance due to flashbacks from that disastrous middle school talent show when we lip-synced to Milli Vanilli.

Yes, one is public singing and one is public speaking, and I’ve conflated the two. But I’ve found that the big-strokes prep is much the same for both.

And so here you have a list, because lists are comforting in their orderliness–especially during times of trepidation (say, like doing public anything during a pandemic). And you have a list in descending order, which should be all the excitement you need on a Friday, right?

5. Embrace the trepidation. In my experience, talking yourself out of nervousness at performing in public doesn’t work. (God love my mom who used to @ me about meditation before a ballet performance.) Have some Jedi mind tricks that work to psych yourself out of nervousness, please teach me your magic. For me, only practice–singing or reading a piece over and over and over–calms the fear. (And if I’m still terribly fearful, I haven’t practiced enough.)

4. Stand (or sit) up straight, and breathe. I know I sound like your mom. Really, it’s about the lungs and diaphragm and other anatomy-ish stuff. And yes, breathing to sing is different than breathing to live. But I would recommend to anyone who has to speak in public that they try breathing like singers do. And, just as singers concentrate on phrasing, so too should readers–especially poets, where line breaks can make or, ya know, break a piece.

3. Take it slow, and enunciate. In singing, we talk about onset and release, but it’s mostly about starting and stopping the right way. In creative readings, the same careful attention should be paid to enunciation. Of course, once the nerves kick in, we want to race to the finish. Fight the urge! Pretend there’s an accompanist or a metronome, keeping you from speeding up, and be sure you can hear every word you say, so that your audience can, too.

2. Make eye contact. Not like salesman-creepy eye contact. But do look up from your words now and then and into the faces of those lovely people who’ve shown up or logged on–and are missing their latest TV show binge–for your words.

1. Speak up. Are you soft-spoken? Is there background noise at your venue? Ask for a mic. Want to go mic-less, you better see #4. You’re going to need to push that breath to be heard.

Your turn: what are your favorite public speaking or creative reading tips or tricks? What are you reading or writing this week? How’s everything?

And… drumroll…

Puppy! (Did you think I’d leave you hanging?) Meet Rufus, the dog I never thought I needed. But who could resist? And, now for more bribery, meet me over at FB or at @MoonRuark over at Twitter and IG, for more Rufus and more Rust Belt-ness.

Rufus, 10 weeks old here, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and capturer of this cat-lover’s heart (and also cicadas).

Hankering for Rust Belt author interviews, book reviews, and more? Check out my categories above. I hope you’ll follow me here, if you don’t already, so you never miss a (quite infrequent) post or more unsolicited advice. Thanks! ~Rebecca

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20 thoughts on ““Say what?” Thinking like a singer to prepare for your next reading

  1. Love puppy Rufus & love your advice! 🐶 I’ve sat through plenty of lit readings by some really great writers who gave pretty lackluster presentations of their work. Wish they’d had your advice! So glad you got a pup—a wonderful, glorious experience for all involved 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think the tides have turned in that I don’t often hear poets and writers read their work in that monotone–that used to be the thing. One of the best readings I’ve ever been to was by Gabino Iglesias. He makes reading his work an absolute show. You’d think he was an actor–you don’t miss a word, perfect elocution. And passion!

      Well, as for Rufus, I put up a pretty good fight for a while, and I’m glad we waited until our boys were old enough to really help. I will miss them when summer vacay is over! But then I get extra puppy snuggles!


  2. Great tips. You’re inspiring me to write about public performances because it’s such an interesting topic. I could write a lot because I used to have a such a problem when I was in school with presentation. And then I got into theatre and now I teach!

    Love hearing about your opera dreams and singing in public! That’s next level fierce.

    And nice to meet you, Rufus! Too cute. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should write about public performances! I’d love to read your experiences. I bet you have great tips from theatre!

      Haha, my opera dreams. It is fun to play around. Actually, I’ve been cantoring at Mass for about a year–and during the pandemic that meant singing by myself. It was good training for the next, wedding level! And I’ve realized that it’s OK to have something that makes me really nervous, even at my age. I don’t have to always feel comfortable–and sometimes it’s better not too. I feel like I’m stretching a little, anyway!

      Rufus says hi. Anytime you want to take him on a walk, just pop on by–don’t I wish!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That adorable puppy! Yum! When I was preparing for my PhD oral exams I had weeks of anxiety about how I would get through it. The best advice I ever got had two parts: 1) these people are invested in your success and as nervous about a debacle as you are so do everything you can to put them at ease. Turning things around like that so that I was thinking of them and not myself was so very helpful. 2) If that doesn’t work, imagine them all naked and mortally embarrassed, with yourself as the only one with clothes on. Mercifully, I didn’t have to use that one! Once, when I had to eulogize a dear friend in a large Catholic church filled with many people I didn’t know, I practiced and practiced and practiced my speech. But what truly calmed me was the choir singing Ave Maria right before my eulogy. It was if the angels had put a hand on my shoulder from above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Put the audience at ease–yes, that makes a ton of sense. I feel this when I go to a performance of any kind–I want the performer to do well and put me at ease so I can enjoy myself. Of course, since I sing in a church, imagining everybody naked would be extra funny!

      Delivering a eulogy, now that has to be the toughest thing–and I love your description of the choir. A good performance can bring peace. And now I’m thinking the world needs more choirs!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the boys are so happy with the puppy. And I’m very glad I held out (as long as I could, you know!) until they’re old enough to really do things–not just cuddle him. Yes, performing in public can be terrible, and knowing a performer is nervous makes everybody uncomfortable. For me, it’s about practicing until it’s so rote I can’t be terribly nervous.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I finally found my way back here to read and comment. I’m so sorry it has taken this long! I love your list – I agree that the more you practice the easier it is to do the actual talking or singing on stage. The one and only time that I was going to sing on stage were for a special Easter ceremony and I ended up getting the flu and never sang the song again. I bet it was a blessing in disguise. LOL. I love those eyes on Rufus. He’s a charmer. And, since I do know you successfully got to do the performances, I hope you are well on your way to planning more!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, Shelley, I’ve been such a bad blogger–post coming this week though. I do appreciate you hanging in there and visiting here! So glad you got something out of my list. I wish I’d had the confidence to sing in front of people 20 years ago, but some things just take time. I had the most interesting September, full of funerals and memorial services–somehow always life-affirming even while celebrating the deceased–for which I sang.

    I bet you would have done a lovely job singing at your Easter ceremony, but, yuck, no one wants to sing with the flu! I do get a lot out of just singing in my car when I’m by myself. The old mis-quote often attributed to Saint Augustine–“To sing is to pray twice”–always rings true for me.

    Rufus has charmed us all, that’s for sure. He is the chillest puppy I can imagine; however he does love to play tug of war and keep-away. So he’s keeping me out in the yard or on the street on walks–and he’s nice company. So glad we finally did get a dog and that it’s him!


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