In So You're Going to Have a Reading: Introductions, we talked about how to prepare for a reading. In Part II, I'll discuss how to react to the inevitable mishaps that happen during a reading.
In a perfect world your reading will go perfectly. Everyone will be engaged, and you will not stutter or drop anything or realize mid-sentence that there is an enormous toothpaste stain on your shirt. (I admit the last one comes from personal experience).
Alas, we do not, in fact, live in a perfect world. Mistakes happen! There will probably be a few hiccups- I find there always is. But they will not ruin your reading! So, if something goes wrong do not panic. Because you’re in control and no number of silly mishaps is going to change that. There are a lot of little things that can go wrong but there are, fortunately, a lot of little fixes as well.
I am a clumsy person, so tripping/dropping things/walking across flat surfaces is a daily battle for me. Tripping and dropping your items is an issue that usually occurs at the beginning of the reading. If you happen to fall and scatter your papers everywhere that is okay! The best thing to do in this kind of situation is just laugh it off. Everyone trips from time to time, and being a good sport about it will probably endear you to someone in the audience (there are legions of clumsy people out there, trust me). Just take your time getting yourself together and move forward. I know it’s tough to have something silly happen at the very beginning, but you have every opportunity to finish strong from there! If you somehow manage to drop your stuff in the middle of your reading you can always claim that you are pausing for dramatic effect.
When I get nervous or excited I tend to read really fast. I sometimes even skip over words or sentences. If you are one of those people who reads too fast there are a few tricks that you can use to combat what I call “read with speed” syndrome. The first trick is the easiest. Just remember to breathe. It is not a race, after every few sentences make sure to take a pause and breathe. This will remind you to slow down. Another tip that I find very effective is marking my paper with notes before I do the reading. If, when you are practicing reading out loud (which I cannot recommend enough), you find a sentence or word that you would like to stress, make a small mark on the paper that will remind you when you’re in front of the audience to do so. Re-typing your work with spaces where you want to pause or breathe is also very effective.
The last thing I want to discuss is dealing with awkward audiences. Audiences are wild cards and they sometimes do things that might interrupt the focus of your reading. I once had a woman loudly eat an entire bag of Cheetos during my entire reading. Irksome audience members are not ideal and unhinge your cool. I believe the best thing to do is to ignore it. There are no real tricks for this problem, unfortunately. Remember, it is your reading and you want to make sure you can represent your work as well as you can. It is annoying and rude if you have chatty or loud audience members during your reading, but that is no fault of yours. Pushing through is the best option, despite how difficult it can be. It will be tempting to pause your reading or ask them to leave. But it is not your job to facilitate the audience, and it is overall in your best interest to stay focused instead of giving them attention.
So if you have any problems arise during your reading, just remember to take breath and smile! Deal with problems gracefully, don’t lose your cool, because you’re going to do great.