Next Thursday you’re going to read at your first open mic and you know you don’t want to bomb.


Don’t fear—help’s on the way!


After several years of poetry reading experiences here are ten tips I’ve curated for you so you’ll be remembered for your presence and poetry, not for the mic you knocked down or for the spit you sprayed on the front row.


  1. Prior to your reading, think hard about who your audience is and what poems they’ll appreciate. Hey, I know I’m stereotyping, but if it’s an older, retired crowd, you might want to steer away from slang and pop culture and instead recite classic poetry from the masters. If it’s a younger crowd, you might want to try out your R-rated poetry slam stuff. If possible, I’d attend a prior open mic as a listener to best gauge the audience.

  2. If you only have 5 minutes to read, make sure you practice your poems with a timer so you don’t go over. Sequence your poems so they flow and don’t read two suicide poems back-to-back.  End on an update or funny note! Also account for any introductions or improv you do during your five minute slot.

  3. Unless you have all of your poems memorized (good for you—you’re awesome!) Print your poems out on colored paper. Choose a nice blue or lilac so when folks take your photo, you won’t be holding blinding white paper. Or if you read from your book of poems, be sure to carefully mark the pages with colored stickies so you don’t look like a dope fumbling through your pages.


  1. So you don’t have to hold up your papers, bring your own collapsible music stand. You’ll look professional even if you don’t feel it yet.
  2. When you first approach the mic, adjust it and then leave it alone. Notice how the other readers are sounding at the mic so you can adjust your voice accordingly not to sound too soft or hard.

  3. Make real eye contact with real people in the audience—don’t just spray the crowd. Eye contact requires you to have memorized some of your lines so you’re not constantly referring to your paper—do it—this is how you connect with the audience.

  4. Speak slowly—one thing I hate at open mics is a new poet who rushes through their beautiful poetry because they’re nervous.

  5. If the crowd laughs at your poem (not at you, with you!) make sure you pause and not step on your laugh. Soak it up!

  6. When your reading’s almost over, cue the audience with, “I’ll close with this poem about me fighting a bear in the Maine woods.”

  7. It’s OK to drink one adult beverage before a reading, but not more than that for obvious reasons.


Your Turn:


What tips on reading your poetry at an open mic did I miss? Please share here!