A recent article in the Wall Street Journal chronicled the woeful state of the book tour for bestselling authors. Most authors read aloud poorly, according to Joanne Kaufman, author of the article “Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour.” She wrote, "Sure, they [authors] know how to read, but they may be none too skilled doing it out loud." She quotes one audience member: "When some authors read, I'll mutter to myself, ‘Is that snoring I hear?'" Exceptions, she writes, are "skilled performers of their own material." They include T. C. Boyle, Sebastian Berry, and Brad Meltzer.
Two factors are in play here. One is that people's attention spans are short and they are not willing to spend their time listening to boring readings. The other is that people are used to being entertained in a fast-paced manner and constantly bombarded with information.
This current trend underscores the importance of the power of the spoken word delivered well and to the importance of holding the attention of the audience when you do speak.
Kaufman recounts that Brad Meltzer, author of thrillers like The Book of Lies, "...regales crowds with background stories about his books and with tales of the 24 rejection letters he received at the beginning of his career...."
In any career you can improve your competitive edge in the market place by excellent delivery style and using stories when you speak. You can improve your ability to read or tell stories by punching out key words and proper nouns. Take an acting class to work on the use of your voice. Listen to the style of the professionals who narrate the popular "books/CDs on tape." Practice the craft of reading aloud by reading to small children—maybe your own toddler, preschooler, grandchild, or a child of a neighbor. (Warning: This may make you very popular with the local moms.)
Be a student of your own life. What memory do you have that might be developed into a story to illustrate a point you want to make in conversation or a presentation? Think of what you learned from certain work-related experiences that might prove a point you want to make.
As is the case with best-selling authors, you may have an excellent command of the language but speaking the words so people will want to hear them involves a different skill set. Take the time to practice what you plan to say so you can say it with enthusiasm and energy and develop illustrative material to make the audience want to listen.
As Robert Redford's character, Tom Booker, said in the movie, The Horse Whisperer, "Knowing is the easy part; saying it out loud is the hard part.”
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. You can contact him at 800.727.6520. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.