A poetry reading is a great honour and it can scare you silly if it’s your first one. I spend a lot of time talking to professional poets like Peter Hunter from 451, Angela Chicken and JnZ Hart collecting tips on stage performance. Here are 5 to help you to make your poems ‘zing’
1) Time your sets, including the links.
If your set is only 10 minutes, then make sure it runs to 10 minutes. I make mine run under because I lost a slam by 2 mins and was told I would have won.What pushed me over the time limit was the introduction so time your links as well. I work by the rule leave the audience wanting more.
2) Practice your sets
Practise, practise, practise so you are comfortable with the work and you know what you sound like on stage. If there is a mic, practice using a mic, will you hold it, leave it in the stand, do without it if the audience space is intimate enough.
3) Have a mix of tones, length and styles.
If someone kept reading the same style of poem to you for more than 2 mins you’d get bored pretty quickly. Make a list of your poems, their subjects and how strong you think they are and collate from there.
4) Only your best.
I keep my sets in Evernote and after the gig I give them a rating. That way if I get caught on the hop, I can pull out a set I know will please the audience. Poems that are shortlisted, poems you fans like or get good feed back after an open mic.
5) Make eye contact
Have your poems to hand in a way that you can make eye contact as much as possible. Look at these three pictures. Songil is smiling and although she’s holding a folder we know she’s looking at us.
Graeme has a huge folder but we know he’s looking for us and Cat Randle doesn’t hold anything. Her face isn’t smiling and we suspect Songils smile draws you in. At Not The Winchester Poetry Fringe, I saw Rob Casey with a tiny folder, reading but still interacting with his audience.
Bonus extra Last tip: Practise at open mics! If you are in Hampshire check out the poetry calendar for all the events you can find and go test your material out as much as you can.