Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Few Tips From Brother Joseph and Sister Michael

Via Steven Schroeder, today I read this post by Chris O. Cook, in which he calls out the 600-pound gorilla by saying "Poetry readings are boring." While I don't share his vehemence, I think he makes some excellent points that my high school forensics coach and first director* would share.

Chris makes some excellent points, but it really all boils down to a lack of awareness of what engages the audience and a lack of effort (sometimes deriving from a lack of comfort) to be entertaining.

Here are a few things many poets can do a better job of:

  • Plan to engage the audience. Bad coaches tell you to open with a joke, good ones tell you you need a hook to catch them and make them listen. Either way, you have a responsibiltiy to push the START button on the reading somehow.
  • Understand but don't partition your audience. As you're starting and during the "casual" dialog, you should be aware of the demographics of your listeners (usually obtainable from a quick look around the room as you settle in at the microphone). It's good to speak to them once in a while, but try not to exclude anyone in the crowd when you do so (I've been inadvertently excluded based on gender, age, education, favorite poets, and politics).
  • Drop the mousy humility. If you're really uncomfortable reading, don't read. If you're going to read, doing act like you hate it. It sounds almost too silly to point out, but remember that your discomfort will make the audience uncomfortable.
  • Be aware of presentation technology. Spend a minute to understand your microphone before you read. Get there early enough to experience the venue, the lights, the layout of the space.
  • Cast off the monotony. Basic public speaking tip: Vary volume and speed. Your poems and your banter with the audience will have different mood and tone and meaning at diffreent points in your reading; why would you suppress your natrual voice at those moments to make them sound the same?

Truthfully, I've not had a reader in my series in 9 years who was genuinely difficult to enjoy because of weak presentation, but I make a serious point to understand the probability of a weak presentation when I sign someone up. In most cases I've seen them before or have a first-hand recommendation; in a rare case, I'll trust a large personality offstage to carry over onto the stage.

Give Chris's post a read - he's more eloquent than I on this issue, and I'm curious what points strike you as on the mark, and if you think he's missig anything. Let me know; we haven't even touched on how basic dance chorus training can be useful for your readings!

* - names altered, but they know who they are....

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