I’ve had the pleasure of leading literary open mics in my writers’ community since 2009. Recently, I’ve joined forces with the Main Street Rag Raleigh Reading Series which hosts a monthly open mic and a featured author at So & So Books in downtown Raleigh.
I’ve learned a lot since the first one I hosted. It was held at Quail Ridge Books, our largest independent book store in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a warm February Sunday afternoon. The bookstore folks told my open mic readers to keep it family-friendly and refrain from political or religious invectives.
The afternoon was going really well, with 15 readers and 40 people at the gathering. We even had a few participants from as far away as Asheville and Wilmington…and then came Billy. He walked in from outside after having missed the beginning, bounced up to the mic and proceeded to read from his memoir. He was reading from a scene between him and his dad and suddenly the f-bombs were flying. “Dad, f-you, I’m not your son.” “Billy, you s—for brains.” It was bleep, bleep and more bleeping.
Shocked, I stood up from the front row, waved my arms at Billy, but he was so deep in concentration he didn’t stop. Then I started jumping up and down and yelling, “Billy, language!”
He finally got it and finished with, “Holy stars, Dad, gee willikers. I wish…you could just darn it…Oh, just darn it. Darn it. Heck.” Then he flounced off the stage and became part of Raleigh Open Mic lore—
“Don’t do a Billy” young writers are now told.
I’d like to share five holy open mic secrets with you so you won’t bomb like Billy at an open mic!
- Know Your AudienceIf you’re an author giving any kind of reading, know your audience! This goes far beyond open mics. Is your audience familiar with your work or are they completely new to it? If they are new to it, warm them up by telling them why they’ll love your work and use humor (that you’ve practiced before)! If you’re the first reader, you won’t have a lot of material to riff about except complimentary stuff about the venue, the hosts and the crowd, but if you’re performing after others, talk up the folks who have gone before you and give them a little love. Doing so will endear you to your audience. If there are children present, no f-bombs! Billy missed the opening remarks from the bookstore and didn’t scan the audience for children and appropriateness before he launched into his bleep fray. Don’t do a Billy!
- Don’t shuffle papers or chit chat while folks are readingSome venues echo every sound you make, even if it’s just reaching into your purse for a pen. Do your self-aware best to turn off your cell phone, gather your notes before or in between readers and make sure you turn off all beeping digital watches (my son was told to turn off his noisy watch, much to his embarrassment!)
- Prepare by reading your work beforehand so you know it’s 5 minutes or lessRehearse your talk and material ahead of time—mark your pages if you’re reading from your book so you’re not thumbing randomly. Don’t think “channeling” your presentation is going to get you out of steadfast preparation. Check to see where you’re stumbling and adjust. Time your talk so you know if you’re going to be over or under on time. And please, don’t whisper at the mic—make your voice loud and strong.
- Do try to stay till the end of the open micIf you signed up first on the open mic list and you’re now breathing easier because your turn is over, don’t leave! Plan to stay at an open mic a minimum of an hour and fifteen minutes. It is good manners and proper courtesy. How would you feel if you’re the last reader who only has the MC, the venue owner and their sister in the audience?
- Dress well for photosWear comfortable, yet spiffy clothing that’s not too tight (you don’t want your buttons popping when you sit down and skin showing for photographs). Also make sure your shoes are comfortable so you can think while up at mic. And if for some reason you don’t want your photos published on social media (maybe you’re hiding from the CIA), tell the MC who’ll have to be in charge of telling other folks who may post your photo on the Facebook event page. Organizers of open mics need to take and share photos so social media recognizes the open mic really took place. Plus, photos help bring more folks out to the next open mic.
Now relax and give your best performance to the people who have come to see you! Don’t Do a Billy!
What points do you have about giving it your best at a reading that I’ve left out? What presentation tips have worked for you? Please share!
Come out to my next open mic this Wednesday, December 17 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Main Street Rag Open Mic Series at So & So Books Featuring David T. Manning
Location: So & So Books, 704 N Person St. Raleigh, NC 27604
Wednesday, December 17, 2014 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. (Social Hour is at The Station at Person Street from 6:30 p.m. till 7:15 p.m.)
Open to the Public and ALL WRITING GENRES WELCOME
Bring poems, stories, or essays to read to this Third Wednesday monthly event. Twelve people will read for 5 minutes, and any literary genre is welcome. Our featured reader is David T. Manning of Cary, NC, who will share his latest collection, Soledad.
If you would like to read your work at the Open Mic, join us at The Station at Person Street (701 N Person St, across the street from So & So) between 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. for our social hour to put your name on the list. This event is co-sponsored by Main Street Rag Publishing Company and is hosted by Beth Browne, Jane K. Andrews and Alice Osborn.