Why Reading Out Loud to a Crowd is Terrifying and Why I Can’t Wait to Do it Again.

Around two months ago I was a part of a launch event in which I volunteered to read out some poetry I had written in relation to our event and what our magazine represented: giving a voice to the voiceless. Whilst I write a lot on my own, I have grown too comfortable wrapped in the blanket of never having to share my work, yet alone reading it aloud. My poetry is generally about my feelings and other people’s feelings (from what they’ve told me), whereas my novel and short story writing is based more on the gothic and horror. I love how I can articulate my feelings on a sheet of paper; ironically documenting it for no one to see- ever. Not only is it therapeutic, but it also gives me good practice for my degree’s creative elements. If you are struggling with bottling up feelings, whatever they may be, I highly recommend writing them down, even if it’s on a napkin. This way they’re out in the open and you’ve released some potentially toxic material- a bit like a much-needed poo.

Back to public speaking. I really feel as though this is up there with my biggest fears and something I knew I needed to tackle at some point, because when you think about it, it’s only speaking to your mate… only a few more people are listening. I have developed a nervous stutter (it doesn’t exactly classify as a stutter as such, I just stumble on my words a lot) when talking to new people, or even close friends, about something I have created or something I’m anxious about. With this in mind, I knew speaking in front of a large group would be a challenge, but my love for poetry and literature requires this challenge to be done- done until it’s finally done well. I’m aware of the new outlet of Instagram poetry (short snippets of usually no more than five lines of poetry) which theoretically would be so much easier for me to delve into. I feel I must be the first to admit… I hate it. My sincerest apologies to the Rupi Kaur fanatics, it’s just not for me. I hate how short and ‘easy’ they seem, whilst I can appreciate the emotion behind some of them, I find it difficult to fall in love with their form’s simplicity when my idea of the perfect poem is long and extravagant and an experiment with words. My somewhat controversial dislike of this new era of poetry leaves me, therefore, with a greater need to overcome my fear of public speaking. This mode of poetry (spoken word) is, for me, the most powerful.

At this launch event for our student magazine we had created, I had decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to try out my spoken word poetry, performing to friends as well as other university students, lecturers, and academics that might appreciate how difficult it might be for students to do this for the first time. I had read my poetry out to my class beforehand, which had been nerve-wracking (I could feel my hand shaking as I held my book), but I was glad I had a test-run before the real thing. What was my fear for? I felt myself tremble slightly but realistically no one seems to care too much if you mess up. I managed the whole thing without any of the tragic happenings I had pictured: no coughing fits; no real stutter; no nervous farts; no heckling. All is well.

reading at launch edited

Over the past few weeks I have been writing new content and I feel slightly more confident now to share it. Whilst reminiscing, I decided to ask a few people I know how reading aloud, performing, or doing anything in front of an audience for the first time went, and how (as well as if) it changed them.

are you okay poem

I met my friend Alice through joining my university’s burlesque troupe. We practice, perform, and support each other, encourage each other to bask in our confidence and fabulousness. This year she had performed her first solo dance, choreographed completely by herself. When I’d asked Alice how performing on stage changed her or affected her in anyway, she replied with this:


alice dancing pic
In terms of how it made me feel afterwards, I didn’t have time to register it initially because I had to run off and get ready for another dance. But in the following weeks I realised it was the best moment in my life. Which is super cliché but true. All those people in the audience had been cheering me. Not anyone else. But me. It is easily a huge ego boost when you do something solo on a stage and people cheer. Especially strangers. Because they love what you did based on merit alone. Not because they are your friends but because you were amazing.’

Another of my close friends, Kiran, also joined our burlesque troupe at the same time as me. Whenever either of us felt nervous in the build up to the first show, or during practices when a move wasn’t perfected enough for our liking, we’d stress together, laugh together, and generally support each other. I asked Kiran the same question: when you performed in front of an audience, did it go how you expected it to and did the experience change you in any way? Here’s Kiran’s response:



lil kiran kiran
‘Before going on stage I was so scared, literally thinking of the worst things that could go wrong. But then I thought ‘fuck it’ and just embraced it all. After performing I felt like I could literally do anything. I felt so fierce and powerful and so happy. It really taught me to appreciate all my flaws.


A personal tutor of mine, Dr Rory Waterman, a published poet and Senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University, featured in one of the first poetry readings I attended. After going to this nearby poetry reading night, I was exposed to a range of different poetry styles: some highly abstract, some delving deep into personal issues and haunting experiences. This night only heightened my rekindled love for poetry. I decided to ask Rory about his first poetry reading and how reading in front of people may have affected him. To this he replied:


‘I don’t remember my first public reading, but I know I used to get very nervous and now I don’t. I think the change happened when I realised that all the most important work had been done in advance: I’d written the poems, put a lot into them, and I WANTED them to have an audience. Before I had a book out, or many poems in print, this meant performing them at readings. I also realised that the fact I wasn’t much of an actor really didn’t matter: if I read clearly and naturally, the poems would seem as clear and natural as possible. I also learned that it’s hard for people to tell that you’re nervous if you just look up a bit and don’t read really fast. I do remember thinking that people were encouraging, too: pretty much everyone is on side, WANTS you to read well, and wants you to feel good, which is easy to forget when you’re nervous. I also remember looking around at other people’s readings, which were going well, and noticing that most people looked as though they were in some sort of mild discomfort. They weren’t: this is just the poem-listening face most people put on inadvertently when they’re concentrating on listening. I think it helped me when I realised that audiences tend to do that! I’m not sure whether it has changed me much, other than by ultimately giving me a bit more confidence to be myself.


I remember being so aware of my shaking hands and that feeling in your throat where you want to gag but must hold it back. Yet when asking my peers if it was obvious, they said they thought I was comfortable. Whilst I hate the nerves and anxiety that come with venturing outside your comfort zone, it also reminds you that you feel these nerves because this, to you, is important. I had to do it for me. Whilst it wasn’t a major event for most people, to me it was a valid stepping-stone and I honestly can’t wait to test myself more as my love of writing progresses. Top tip: a nervous wee is a must.





Photograph Credits:

Laura Clancy Reading is Laura Clancy’s own.

Poetry is Laura Clancy’s own.

Alice Baines dancing is by Sam Strutt Photography.

Kiran Tank is Laura Clancy’s own.

Dr. Rory Waterman is by ntu.ac.uk .