What Makes a Successful Open Mic Series?

Chances are if you’re a writer you’ve been to an open mic. What was it about that open mic last night that made you want or not want to come back? Was it the people, the venue, the performances or all three? After over two years of running my own open mic series and attending scores of open mics I’ve come up with my own list of what makes for a great series. This post is both for regular open mic attendees and folks who are interested in stepping into an open mic hosting role. 

  • Have the open mic in a fun location with good, easy parking and soft chairs. What defines fun? A coffeeshop, coffee/bar, or winebar make for excellent venues. The place should have its own vibe and energy so that the open mic itself isn’t always bringing it in. Having a place where patrons can get their own food and drink is key–it gets old having to “import” wine/beer, cheese, and chairs to an open mic event on a regular basis.

  • Speaking of regular, successful open mics are ones that occur the same time every month, without fail. Consistency is key. Monday Night Poetry and Music in Charleston, SC takes it a step further by having the series EVERY Monday at 7:30pm almost every Monday of the year. Folks who attend this open mic series are extremely devoted to their Monday night ritual and this makes for a series with a long and healthy future.

  • Participants know what to expect such as showing up on time to sign up and knowing without argument that they have only 5 minutes to speak/present. It’s also a great idea for the host to use a triangle or a chime when the time has ended (I used a timer–not the most calming sound in the world, but it got the job done). It’s not a pretty site when the host has to wrestle the mic out of their sweaty hands when their time is up. Also, the participants show up prepared with their work and are good audience members who support their fellow writers with thoughtful encouragment, buy the featured readers’ books occasionally and thank their host on Facebook.

  • Support from the venue owner in terms of Facebook/Twitter posts, website updates, flyers and more! This is win-win for everyone because open mics are announced all over the web and the venue owner is able to benefit from the Google love. It’s also a bonus when the venue can supply a mic stand, music stand and speakers.

  • Community. The best open mics I’ve ever attended are the ones where the regulars and newbies all gather afterwards for dinner, drinks and conversation.

  • Someone taking photos and posting them soon after the event on Facebook and then tagging the regulars. It’s a lot of work, but so worth it to build excitement and community.

  • Having a friendly open mic host who makes everyone feel welcome and worthy and who also isn’t afraid of protecting everyone’s time (yes, I’m talking to you who hasn’t practiced before open mic night and you keep begging for another 5 minutes).

  • Having a featured reader/musician who has some bank in terms of talent and publications. Usually featured readers open the evening and the open mic follows. Featured readers who have a great time tell their friends and more good talent shows up.

Your Turn:

Open mic veterans, newbies and intermediates! What else can you add to this list? I appreciate your comments and your time!

Posted in: Writing

Leave a Comment (3) ↓


  1. Mamie June 14, 2011

    Alice, I have read at a couple of open mics in Raleigh. I have some suggestions both for people who facilitate them and for people who participate in them.

    1. Make newcomers welcome. I can’t say this enough. It’s easy for those who participate on an on-going basis and know a lot of the participants to overlook the fact that a newcomer is easily left out of the fun. He or she may be a little nervous too (I was) and interaction with seasoned readers would alleviate some of that.
    2. It is important that the audience be engaged with all the readers. At one of the events I felt that most people were there to read and not to listen. Also people should stay for the entire event, not leave as soon as they read.
    3. At one of the open mics, there was no cut-off time for signing up. This enabled a person who came late to participate as fully as a person who came on time.
    4. A limited number of readers would make it easier to stay engaged. It’s hard to stay focused when there are more than 20 people reading in a night, even at five minutes a pop.

    Thanks for listening and for your advice to others who facilitate.

    • Alice Osborn June 14, 2011

      Thank you, Mamie, for those valuable tips–always make newcomers feel welcome and set limits on sign up time!

  2. KT Wagner August 23, 2011

    Thanks Alice. I couldn’t click on the link to this post quickly enough – my writers group is planning an Open Mic event and we appreciate advice from an experienced host.

    I like the idea of a featured reader!




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