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Learn a Method to Read Better in Public

Updated: Apr 27


an audience of men and women listening to a speaker

Introduction - Learn a method to read better in public


Want to learn the skills to read a speech or a story while maintaining eye contact with your audience?


Well, I do that in this article; it's a short course, actually.


I know the skills you learn here will help you in Public Reading.


Let me begin by saying that there are two ways to read:


1. Privately, to yourself.



overhead photo of a woman holding an open book on her lap and a cup of tea
reading to yourself


2. In public, to an audience ranging from one to many.


And, there are two situations in which you would 'do' reading (out loud) in public. They are:


  • · Reading a prepared speech.

  • · Reading a story to someone e.g. your child at bedtime, or to your class at school.


When you read to yourself, you don’t usually read aloud. You might murmur, or whisper the words as you read.


For most of the time, you read with your eyes.


As well, you can reread sections, if you do not understand those parts the first time.



Private reading is for pleasure (a novel, a short story, or a poem) or for study (a textbook).


On the other hand, public reading involves public speaking.


You must make sure you read every word that’s written.


And you must correct yourself if you discover that you made a mistake.



Two ways to read in public


  • · Head and eyes down, concentrating on the text, occasionally looking up at your audience.

  • · Reading the text but maintaining good eye contact with your audience.



So, let’s look at the first way.


You are reading the text aloud, not looking at your audience.


You finish, you look up, and your audience has fallen asleep, are busy checking their phones, or - worst case scenario - have left the room.


Or your child, to whom you’ve been reading a bedtime story, fell asleep ten minutes ago.



But, you don’t want to make a mistake in your reading, do you?


Of course not! So, you concentrate on reading every word. Word by word by word.


And if your head is down, you are not projecting your voice.


Why? Because your throat is constricting your voice. Your voice 'sounds' bad.


Your reading performance is not an interesting and engaging experience for your audience.


 Or for you, as you appear to be more interested in your written speech than your audience.



The second way is better



You will agree that the second way is preferable. It is a much better way to do public reading.


Learn this technique and you will sound and appear better.


Your audience will be more engaged with you, as you will be with them.


When you read aloud in this manner:


  • · Every word you say will be loud and clear.

  • · You will be showing interest in your audience.

  •  Your audience will be showing interest in you and your speech (as long as it's an interesting topic of course!)

and

  • ·You can check to see if your audience is understanding what you are reading.



The Method Explained


It's a 3-step process.


Read, Look Up, and Say. Repeat.


It’s not a revolutionary method; it is well known.


But, for this course, it is fundamental. It is the basis for other skills in learning English.


As I said, it is why it is the prerequisite for a follow-up article on Public Speaking.



Practice makes perfect


And while it is a simple concept, you've got to practice it until it becomes automatic.


In effect, you are training your eyes to help you become a more ‘active’ reader. (More on that later.)


OK, so let’s break my Read, Look up, and Say method down, step by step.


Step 1: READ


During this part, you’ll be reading with your eyes, not your mouth.


To make that clear, here’s something to try.


Read a sentence aloud and time it, or have someone listen to you read and they can time you.


Ready? Read this sentence:


“To make that clear, here’s something to try.”


How long did it take to read it (with your mouth)? 3 seconds? 4 seconds?


Now, try reading it with your eyes. Do not speak it as you read.


Read this sentence: “To make that clear, here’s something to try.”


Maybe you also read the part at the front: “Read this sentence:” as well, with your eyes.


How long?


Maybe a second, including the extra part. Certainly not 3 or 4 seconds. Like taking a photograph: CLICK!


The point of that was to show you that reading with your eyes is much faster than reading with your mouth.


You have proven it to yourself.


An important lesson!


Now, it’s unlikely that you will be able to read the whole sentence at once – unless it’s a very short sentence. It’s difficult for anyone to remember a long sentence after reading it one time.



Break the text of a long sentence up into 'chunks'



So, we need to break the long sentence into pieces. ‘Chunks’ I call them.


A chunk is a part of the whole. A chunk of concrete might be part of a wall that’s broken off.


A phrase or a clause might also be called a chunk.


So, we read not 'word by word by word', but 'chunk by chunk by chunk'.


Punctuation marks help you


It’s quite easy to recognise the chunks.


Look for punctuation marks:


  • commas

  • colons

  • semi-colons

  • full stops

  • dashes

  • question marks

  • exclamation marks


(See my Punctuation articles if you are unsure about these.)



So, when we look down to read, we identify all the punctuation first.


Then, find the first chunk, read it with your eyes, then:


Look up (Step 2)


and Say it (Step 3).


And that’s the whole method: Read, Look Up, and Say It.


Then repeat for as many times as required until you reach the end.


A summary of the 3 Steps


Let me make the process very clear, in simple terms:


Step 1 - Identify the chunks - punctuation helps


Step 2 - (with the chunk fixed in your mind) Look up at your audience


Step 3 - say the chunk


Repeat - but take care you don't look like a mechanical bird drinking water and looking up between sips.


But it doesn’t end there!


What if there are no punctuation marks to help you find the chunks?


Prepositions and Conjunctions help


Don’t panic! If there are no punctuation marks, use prepositions and conjunctions to help you.

Do this exercise

Look at the previous 2 lines. Identify the chunks.


The first chunk would be the words “Don’t panic!”


The second chunk would be: “If there are no punctuation marks”.


The third: “use prepositions and conjunctions”.


The fourth: “to help you”.

Or, if you think you can do it, combine the third and fourth chunks.



So, for each chunk you must Read, Look Up and Say.


Keep it flowing


Now, the ‘trick’ is to keep the whole sentence ‘flowing’.


Think about this:


You read a chunk with your eyes and mouth the words at the same time.


Then look up and say, then do the same for the next. The time to read it like that will be a couple of seconds. The result, silence between each chunk.


So, while you are speaking a chunk, before you finish, quickly look down at the next chunk.


Photograph it in your mind (keep it in your short-term memory).


As you finish the first chunk continue with the next. Keep it flowing smoothly.


Use your finger as a placeholder


Keep your finger under each chunk so you can easily find it when you look down to ‘memorise’ it.


Raise your reading material


Also, raise your book or paper to a level where you don’t have to move your head too much. If you keep it too low, you will look like a person nodding yes, yes, yes: not a good look!


Also, if you keep it high, you might not have to move your eyes far from your paper to your audience. (Don’t cover your face though!)


Say what's there


So, as I said earlier, it’s important to say/speak exactly what is in the text; you cannot ‘make it up’.


If you forget, do not worry, look down, get the chunk again, look up and say it.


Practice, practice, practice.


To become smooth, takes practice.


Much practice.


But do not practice for hours on end. It’s very tiring. Do short passages only, then rest. Do it daily or a couple of times a day.



Do not memorise


Another thing: you do not have to memorise the text you are reading. The only memory you need is the short-term memory function of retaining a chunk in your mind, then it goes.


It’s like copying and pasting on a computer.


Select and copy, then paste.


Do it again and the previous text is gone. You replace it with a new copied text and so on.


Most of the time, you will have time to prepare for your performance.


There is a step by step process you can take. Let me explain now.



Preparing to read aloud - it's a process


When you have a text to read aloud, or the speech you have written is ready, do this:


  • Skim the text, trying to identify the chunks.

  • Read it to yourself (it will ‘sound ’right or wrong) and use a pencil to make a slash (/) to mark the chunks.

  • Underline any words you do not understand or know how to pronounce.

  • People might ask you questions after your speech or presentation.

  • You need to understand what you have read or written to answer their questions. Expect questions and prepare.

  • Check the pronunciation of words. Make a note (the phonemic form) beside the text to help you.

  • Then, practice. Amend any chunks you find not quite right.



Let me tell you a short story.



In late 2017, I judged a student English speaking contest at a university in China.


Competitors had to read a text that they had not seen before the contest. The contest organisers told them to begin reading whenever they felt ready. But to not take too long; they had about a minute to prepare.


They took a variety of approaches.


Some started immediately and stumbled over unfamiliar words.


Or mispronounced them, even skipping them after an initial attempt.


A few stopped and started again from the beginning!! That was embarrassing.


They did not look up from the page.


The others skimmed the text, which took 30 seconds, then began.


They did a little better; at least they were somewhat more familiar with the text. But they too, concentrated on the page, not looking up at the audience.


Next day, in class, I told my students about it.


The week before, I had taught them the Read, Look Up and Say Method


I reassured them that had they taken part in the contest they would have astounded the judges.


None of the teachers at this university, apart from me, taught their students this method.



Another story


I watched a man on TV news recently, reading a statement. He did not look up once at the camera. It was not interesting viewing.


So, I hope my stories show you how useful this method is.



Conclusion


And so, that is the end of the lesson, designed to get you to learn a way - a method - to read better in public.


All that’s left is for you to practice, practice, practice.


Good luck with learning this method of reading in public. I hope you find it valuable.



Further Reading



It's an important part of public speaking. It will help you overcome any nervousness about speaking in public.



To learn more about how to improve your speaking, I encourage you to read my article here.





© Apex English Tutoring Nov 2020 - Updated January 2024




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About Me


Hello and welcome!


My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.


As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.






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