Stand and deliver - five Ps for a perfectly acceptable performance

Guest post by Rex Davies Following on from Iain’s blog post about why bloggers should perform their writing, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on the actual mechanics of delivery. I spend a fair portion of my time training people in presentation skills and these are some key areas to consider.

Pace

When I teach public speaking the advice I always give to presenters is slow down. There are two reasons for this:

  • Your audience cannot listen as fast as you can speak. They need time to reflect on what they are hearing so imagine you are talking to an audience of deaf foreigners and speak louder and more slowly than ordinary conversation speed.
  • The more slowly you speak, the greater the importance your audience attach to your words. Remember the wise words of Michael Caine – “unimportant people talk quickly when they believe that the more important people they are talking to don’t have the time to listen to them”. You worked hard to create your writing, don’t throw it away with a machinegun mumble!

The key to achieving this is deep breathing, before and during the performance. As you wait to take the stage, push your stomach down and out on the in-breath and pull it up and in on the exhalation.

This is precisely the opposite to how most people breathe but it ensures that you completely fill then empty your lungs and thus fully oxygenate your bloodstream. It gets you over the “rush” as you begin to speak and ensures that you can project your voice in a slow, clear and controlled manner.

Pitch

Presenters on TV who read from an autocue are taught the following technique. Every third or fifth word or syllable they raise or lower the tone of their voice. This gives variety and is the opposite of a monotone. Add some red dots above and below your text as a prompt to adjust the pitch of your voice up and down.

Whilst initially a random process, you will find that the meaning of certain words and phrases is enhanced by a rising or falling voice tone. This is especially important where you want to ask a question of your audience (voice tone up and pause) or come to an obvious conclusion (voice tone down and pause).

Pause

Ideally, some of your recital will create amusement or emotion. These punchlines are where you need to allow even more time for your audience to react. Delaying the next line and looking round the room to make eye contact with your audience will enhance the desired effect.

Print

With poetry, to read or not to read, that is the question. The best performing poets usually recite their work from memory but there are practical considerations here. Personally, I can recite shorter works without recourse to my text but sometimes the stress of memorising longer pieces is “a bridge too far”.

In the past I’ve found that an unexpected reaction to one line has thrown me completely as I try to adjust the delivery to accommodate the audience response. Poems that rhyme are easier to remember as this form (the oral tradition) predates writing but excessive rehearsal can smooth out a piece to the point where you gain fluency at the expense of much of the original meaning.

Blogs and stories don’t have such a memorable structure, so read from text but avoid burying yourself in your notes at the expense of eye contact with your audience.

Productivity

I’ve found that access to a regular spoken-word event has given me production deadlines and accelerated my writing. Balancing any trepidation against the chance to try out my new work on an audience seems to have helped me develop as a writer and performer.

A few tips on developing your material:

  • Write everything down. Ideas appear and disappear unbidden so what seems such an obvious line or phrase at the time can prove elusive when you try to recall it. Carry a notebook or use the memo function on your mobile phone
  • Keep everything you write and don’t worry if it doesn’t make a complete piece straight away. Rereading your notebooks, old envelopes and post-it notes is a great way to start a new work
  • Don’t work directly onto your computer. Word-processing revisions mean that some of your initial words and phrases can be lost but these may be useful later as you get nearer to your finished piece.

So, work on your pace, pitch, pause, print and above all, your productivity. All the best – see you on stage, eh?

About Rex

Rex likes to read his poems at spoken word evenings. His play was broadcast on Sheffield Live last year. His novel is nearly finished - he has all the page numbers now and just needs to add the words. You can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.