The Subtle Art of Reading-aloud

Posted: December 5, 2015 in 'The Or'in of Tane Mahuta', books, IWSG, perseverance, Reading aloud, Speeches
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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs. *sorry, I’m late!



I did a public book reading this week. My first ever. And I sucked. Big time.


There’s a common misconception that reading aloud is like falling off a log. If you can entertain your children with a bedtime story, so the wisdom goes, you can read to anyone. But that’s not strictly true.


I tell my kids a bedtime story every night. Recently, I published my own book, so when my Toastmasters club ran an “Oral Reading Contest,” I thought, Perfect. No one knows my story better than I do. No one loves these characters more than me. Therefore, sharing it with an audience should be simple, right? No.


Long story short, I failed to even scrape into third place. And, I only sold two copies.


This was because I had imagined that a public read-aloud would be similar to giving a speech. In fact, it requires a certain skill-set, which includes: 1) ability to pitch your voice to the back of the room, 2) ability to annunciate clearly and have resonance, and 3) ability to interpret and articulate an idea. While all these things are part of public speaking, in a reading, they are the be-all and end-all.



Reading aloud is about the voice.

There is no emphasis on actions or ‘using the space of the stage’ as there is when you give a speech. The winner, Margaret didn’t move from the spot or do anything but read. It was a riveting performance, a study in vocal modulation, the well-defined pause, and emphasis on certain words.  Margaret demonstrated eloquently just how much I still had to improve.


I did some digging and wish to share with you what I’ve learned so far. Here are the three basics of reading aloud successfully:


1) Ability to pitch your voice to the back of the room

I remember when I took drama classes as a young adult. The first thing our teacher had us do was throw our voices. He gave each of us a poem to read, then he ran to the back of the auditorium and we had to practice being able to project our voice further and further, until he could hear every word from the back row. This is how we can work on our audibility.



2) Ability to annunciate clearly and have resonance

Slowing down is a good way to start. We have to allow enough time to get the mouth around each syllable. When we rush, we can “swallow” the words and drop the consonants.

A good posture is important. Keep the chin up and the eyes level. It’s easy to mumble when the chin is lowered. Resonance comes when we breathe fully. We must draw the breath right down into the diaphragm and release the whole breath before we take another. Otherwise a voice can sound “tinny” or “whiny” and will not have the desired effect.




3) Ability to interpret and articulate an idea

As opposed to the razzle-dazzle of public speaking, public reading is about a quiet focus. It’s about inhabiting the prose. As one senior member explained to me, “It’s re-living the piece, rather than re-telling it.”

So we have to dig deep in order to bring all our understanding to the prose. Then we have to choose wisely, to make sure we’re doing the piece that speaks the most strongly to us.




If you’re a writer, a poet, a singer, a teacher, a salesperson, or whatever your profession, there may come a time when you’re expected to get up and read in front of a crowd. Don’t make the same mistake I did and simply assume that just because you read bedtime stories to your kids every night, or read poetry to your mother, that you can wing it.

Margaret gave me some great advice. She said, “The secret is to read the bit you love most.” Then she added, “The main thing is to really enjoy whatever you’re reading.”


Lynn Kelley


Reading aloud is a skill which does need to be learned.

The good thing is you don’t have to do it alone. I have some good teachers in my Toastmasters club to learn from. As one member said, “Every meeting is a workshop.” I’m thinking of joining a “book reading club” as well. So, it can be a simple fix and it doesn’t need to be daunting. Find a club, your own “workshop” situation, and practice, practice, practice!

That’s what I’m doing!


Keep creating!

Talk to you soon,

Yvette K. Carol


I get my ideas from a warehouse called Ideas R Us. ~ Terry Pratchett




  1. Catherine Johnson says:

    Great tips, Yvette. I bet it’s harder reading long pieces compared to short poems. I bet going to readings would be helpful too. Hear someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. emaginette says:

    Yes, I’m facing this sometime in February and it is freaking me out just a little. 🙂

    Anna from Elements of Writing

    Liked by 2 people

    • yvettecarol says:

      This is the advice a seasoned member gave me after the debacle of my read-aloud: “Practice!” She recommended I find a few different scenarios on a small scale, to start with, like reading to a group of friends, then reading to a larger group, etc, until you feel comfortable. Because, as I just learned, ‘winging it’ when it comes to something this important is a big risk to take! I’m so grateful my experience happened in the friendly atmosphere of my club, where it’s okay to fail. Whew!! Hey, good luck with yours, Anna! These are exciting times for us, my friend 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. yvettecarol says:

    Thanks, Lynn! Talk about a learning experience!


  4. Everything I learned about reading aloud, I learned at choir practice when I was a child. Very good points and Margaret is definitely right about reading the parts you love best. Thanks, Yvette.


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