When done well, an interpretive reading can be as entertaining as any skit, play or musical performance. In fact, you can often catch a version of the interpretive reading on PBS … they periodically air “concert” versions of musicals. No costumes, no acting … just the performers reading and singing their lines standing in front of a conductor stand and microphone.
When I was competing in speech in high school and didn’t make it to final rounds (yes, it happened on occasion), I would always sit in on the finals of the dramatic reading. There was this one young man who competed with his interpretation of The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. He was amazing. I saw him perform this several times and it was always entertaining.
If you are a fiction author or poet, mastering this type of speech can really help you sell more of your work. If, when you do live readings, you can dramatize your selection and make it entertaining beyond the words, you will engage the audience and inspire them to open their pocketbooks to buy a copy of their own.
Even if you are not an author, it is possible that you may be asked to do an interpretive reading of someone else’s work. In fact, most interpretive readings are just that … interpreting a story, essay, speech or other work written by someone else.
Because you are literally reading, you don’t need to memorize the work verbatim. But it is recommended that you are familiar with the work so that you can add in the appropriate pacing, vocal variety, gestures, postures and other techniques of dramatizing the work.
Tips for effective interpretive reading
Select your selection
Sometimes you will be assigned something to read; at other times you will be given the opportunity to choose your own. When making this selection, keep both your time constraints and audience in mind. Make sure that what you’ll be reading is appropriate for the context and will fit into the time allotted.
Plot your drama
Read through your selection. Make a note of the rhythm and meter. Will you need to add voices for different characters? Where should you speed up or slow down your pace? Where should you lower or raise your voice? You may want to use different colored highlighters to help mark up the text for cues.
Practice, rehearse, then do a dry run
Do not do a dramatic reading on the fly. Unless you are a pro, like James Earl Jones below, you will, most likely, fall flat on your face. Practice your interpretive reading a few times so that you can master your pacing, volume, and other dramatic flares. This will also help you with maintaining eye contact with your audience. When you know most of what you’re reading, you won’t have to look down and read it as much.
Yes, you might want to change up your voice for different characters … but be careful. If you’re going to do an accent, be sure you do it respectfully and appropriately. Nothing is worse than listening to someone do an accent that they can’t do well … who thinks they’re doing it well.
Resources for better interpretive reading
- Reading and research series: Interpretive or dramatic reading
- How to Perform a Dramatic Reading (ehow.com)
- How to Perform a Dramatic Reading (PenAndThePad.com)
Some fun dramatic readings
Dramatic readings are often done for comedic effect. Recently, Jane Lynch and Bill Maher did a dramatic reading of Anthony Weiner’s dirty messages over a social media site. In the 1970s, I used to love listening to Steve Allen do dramatic readings of pop songs … his take on Donna Summers “Hot Stuff” had me rolling on the floor every time! Here are some more examples of what I’m talking about:
James Earl Jones reads Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby, Baby”
William Shatner reads Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
An overly dramatic reading of Men at Work’s “Down Under”
Did you miss these?
Here are the previous posts in this “Type of Speeches” series:
- The Keynote Address
- The Training Session
- The Motivational Speech
- The Entertaining Speech
- The Demonstration
- The Information Dump
- The Inspirational Speech
- The Q & A
- The Persuasive Speech
- The Impromptu Speech
- The Acceptance Speech
- The Commencement Speech
- The Eulogy
- The Toast
- The Roast
The next post in this series is Presenting an Award.