Preparing a Live Reading

Readings can be daunting. This series looks at how to survive a live reading, with this essay focusing on preparing successfully.

Image Credit: 
© 2016 Epytome / Used With Permission

Live readings can be daunting, especially if you are not used to standing up in front of others. They are a performance, as much as singing a song or acting in a play is a performance. You are reading words aloud for others to hear.

The most important thing you need to remember is two simple words: Don’t panic.

Yes, they are the same words printed on the back of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in large, friendly letters, to relieve those suffering anxiety during intergalactic travel, and they apply just as much to live readings. If you can keep calm, and focus on the reading as a staircase instead of a mountain, you will be able to ascend to the top with ease, taking each step as it comes.

Choose Your Words

Before you get started you need to pick a piece of your writing to read. Often, people choose something with impact that will resonate with the target audience. Whether you are reading a short story, a poem, a monologue, a book extract, a speech, or a factual piece, you need to make sure it will engage the people you are addressing. The only thing worse than listening to someone read a dull piece is being the person reading it, so make sure you pick something good.

Some words and phrases can be difficult to pronounce, but practice can help with this. The main issue people face when deciding what to read is embarrassment—bad jokes, swear words, sex scenes, horrific character traits, sections that are too personal to share. If you are worried about a part for that reason, consider your audience. Will they be comfortable hearing it? Will your family be there? Decide on your piece wisely, if you feel embarrassed about it you will automatically lose confidence. Aim your piece at the rough level of the people who will be listening to it and you will find that it feels right to say the words aloud.

Check It

Bear in mind length and time. You need to read it confidently and clearly, which is usually slower than you would internally. Grab a stopwatch or timer and start it running, and then read through your selected piece out loud. When you have finished, check the time. If the piece is too long you may have to select something different. Three to eight minutes is a good guide, as any longer than that may be a struggle for some members of the audience.

Get Ready

Make sure your piece is printed in a large, clear font so that you can read is clearly from a distance. When you are on stage, in front of an audience, those words will get smaller by themselves. Your eyes will find it harder to focus as your body will be pumping with adrenaline. You need to be able to read it comfortably with your arms outstretched, as that is how it will appear later, even if you hold it closer, as most people would.

If you are exceptionally nervous, pick out an outfit to wear for your performance. Get that sorted early so you can use it as a costume when practicing. Whenever you put those clothes on you are ready to go. Like a superhero, you change into your garments of power and read like you’ve never read before.


By preparing you will begin to feel less worried about your reading, and a sense of self-confidence will settle within you. Yes, you’ll still be nervous, but it will feel more manageable to you. Write the performance in your calendar. Work out where it is and plan your route so you won’t be late. It sounds menial, and it is, but if you’ve not been to the venue before the worst thing that could happen would be a last-minute panic to find it. Little things like this will calm your mind, and allow you to focus on getting your deliver to the best it can be.


Next: Practicing

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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