In this article - a short course, actually - you will learn the skills to enable you to read a speech or a story while maintaining eye contact with your audience.
The skills you learn here will help you in Public Speaking, the topic of another article for the future. So, because you have subscribed to my blog, you won't miss it.
Let me begin by saying that there are two ways to read:
1. Privately, to yourself.
2. Publicly, to an audience ranging from one to more than one person.
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. For most of the time, you read with your eyes, perhaps occasionally murmuring, or whispering the words as you read. As well, you can reread parts, if you do not understand those parts the first time.
Private reading, therefore, 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 while making sure you read every word that’s written, and perhaps having to correct yourself if you discover that you made a mistake.
There are two ways to read in public.
· Head and eyes down, concentrating on the text.
· Reading the text but maintaining 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 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, possibly word by word by word.
As well, if your head is down, you are not projecting your voice because your throat is constricting your voice. You sound bad.
Overall, then, your reading performance is not an interesting and engaging experience for your audience - or you, as you appear to be more interested in your written speech than your audience.
Obviously, the second way is preferable.
Learn this technique and you will not only sound and appear better, but 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 and your audience will be showing interest in you and your speech (as long as it's an interesting topic of course!
· Most importantly, you can check to see if your audience is understanding what you are reading.
Simply put, the method I will teach you is this:
Read, Look Up, and Say. Repeat.
It’s not a revolutionary method; it is well known. But, for this course, I believe it is fundamental. It is the basis for other skills in learning English. As I said, it is why it is the prerequisite for the follow-up article on Public Speaking.
And while it is a simple concept, it must be practiced 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 it 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 just proved 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 just once.
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.
It’s quite easy to recognise the chunks by looking for punctuation marks, such as commas, colons, semi-colons, full stops, dashes, question and exclamation marks etc. (See my Punctuation articles if you are unsure about these.)
So, when we look down to read, we identify all the punctuation first, 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.
But it doesn’t end there!
What if there are no punctuation marks to help you find the chunks?
Don’t panic! If there are no punctuation marks, you can use words, especially prepositions and conjunctions to help you.
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: “you can use words”.
The fourth: “especially prepositions”.
“and” is the conjunction to ID the chunk “and conjunctions”.
The last chunk is: “to help you”.
So, for each chunk you must Read, Look Up and Say.
Now, the ‘trick’ is to keep the whole sentence ‘flowing’.
If for example, you were to 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.
Therefore, 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), and when you finish the first chunk continue with the next. Keep it flowing smoothly.
Keep your finger under each chunk so you can find it easily when you look down to ‘memorise’ it.
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, constantly: not a good look!
Also, if you keep it high (don’t cover your face though) you might not have to move your eyes far from your paper to your audience.
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, simply look down quickly, get the chunk again, look up and say it.
To do that smoothly, takes practice.
Do not, however, practice for hours on end. It’s very tiring. Do short passages only, then rest. But do it daily or a couple of times a day.
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 previously copied text is gone, to be replaced by a new copied text and so on.
Most of the time, when you must give a prepared speech or must read something aloud to an audience, you will have time to prepare for your performance.
There is a step by step process you can take. Let me explain now.
First, when you are given a text to read aloud, or the speech you have written is ready, 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 and you need to understand what you have just read or written to answer their questions.
Pronunciation of words can be checked; 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 prior to the contest. They were instructed to begin reading whenever they felt ready. But not take too long; perhaps a minute.
They took a variety of approaches.
Some started immediately and stumbled over unfamiliar words, wrongly pronouncing them, skipping them after an initial attempt. A few stopped and started again from the beginning. 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 preceding this class, I had taught them the Read, Look Up and Say method and 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, my stories, hopefully, point out to you how useful this method is.
And so, that is the end of the lesson.
All that’s left is for you to practice, practice, practice.
Good luck, and don't forget - the article on Public Speaking will be published soon. Keep an eye on your inbox.