On Reading Aloud

I have a dream, well, perhaps more of a desire really, to be able to stand up in front of an audience of my peers and read some of my written work aloud.

I used to be quite good at it when I was at school, with my teachers often choosing me to read aloud in class. My hearing disability means I have quite a loud, clear voice. A lot of profoundly deaf people can sound quite nasal or monotone, as they get no feedback from their speech. I am thankful that when I lost my hearing around the age of 8, I had already learned to speak and understood intonation, emotion and emphasis quite well. I also watched people very intently so as to lip read them, so I feel like I have a good understanding of body language and how to mimic it. I even worked as a secondary level English teacher for a few years, and had to not only speak in front of over 30 students, but completely lead the class.

Unfortunately, as I have grown older and the direction of my life has changed, my deafness is also the very thing that gives me the most anxiety, on top of my usual anxiety!

When I am put on the spot in a social situation, I can usually roll with it and respond pretty well. Even if I misheard someone or didn’t hear them at all, there is a period which allows instant feedback. This in turn allows me to assess the context of the interaction, reinsert myself back into the conversation, or at least to apologise for not hearing and ask for questions to be repeated, for example.

Perhaps strangely, I feel like this instant feedback opportunity is lost when I have to prepare to speak aloud. When I have the time to think about what I will be required to do, I fall apart. I do what those in the acting industry calls “croak”, and my voice is literally useless.

My social anxiety has always been an issue for me since my late teens. Thank you, stupid broken brain. Most of the time however, or at least while navigating social interactions, I can find ways to circumvent it’s negative effects and mask how I feel. I can paste on a smile, breathe deeply, relax my body, and remind myself that while I might feel like this is the herald of impending doom and death, it really isn’t. I will survive this.

The expectations of reading aloud to a group of people should theoretically be easier as there is less spontaneous interaction taking place, but in contrast, there are more pairs of eyes on me.

In that moment, if I mess up, more people will see me do it, and that means more anxiety about how I will react. If someone asks a question and I don’t hear or mishear and respond incorrectly, more people than usual will experience that. If I pronounce something incorrectly, it will be noticed. My deafness might make me look stupid, inexperienced or even rude.

While I shouldn’t care about that so deeply, after all it’s not something that I can really change, nor do I do it on purpose, for whatever reason I really do care. I can only assume it relates to the element of not being in full control of a situation or in control of how I present myself.

I am working on things I can do to combat my insecurities and find my confidence. I record myself reading my poems, listen to them and consider how I could improve my performance. I practise deep breathing and lung capacity exercises, and mindfulness techniques before I speak. I try to ensure I am prepared but not so over-prepared that I sound like I am speaking from a script.

I remind myself that I am in control and that I absolutely have the necessary skills required to speak aloud, that my voice is loud, clear, and engaging.

I am hopeful that if I work on these positive routines, eventually I will be able to do what I wish to achieve, and share my written work and creativity in the way I want others to experience it.

Leave a comment:

Have you got any experiences of speaking or reading aloud? What kinds of positive things did you do to make the process easier and to relax yourself?