On Wednesday 28th November I attended an open mic event at Brighton University and also had the chance to listen to Lynn Buckle read from her novel The Groundsmen. Exquisite writing and I can’t wait to read the full book.
Now, before you all come at me with daggers and pitch forks yelling: ‘Where was OUR invitation?’ unfortunately I couldn’t extend an invitation to you lovely folks as this was only a thing for students and recent graduates of the university. However, since I didn’t want to leave you out, I recorded my open mic session and have popped a little recording above of me reading one of my latest poems from The Isolation Hospital: ‘Something Changed’. I hope you enjoy listening to it! (You can put your weapons down now….)
I’ve also written some top tips below for any of you thinking of attending an open mic to share your work with others. I’d encourage every writer to do this as it’s a great way of getting your writing out there and giving you the confidence to keep writing.
7 Top Tips for doing Open Mics
ONE: Project your voice and enunciate
It’s important when you’re reading not to mumble, which can be hard if you’re nervous, but filling the room with your voice and speaking clearly will help engage your listeners and ensure your wonderful poem or story can be heard, which after all, is the point!
A little articulation exercise that you can do in your car or at home before you go is to stick your tongue out, without straining, and try and say the alphabet as clearly as you can. Then, with your tongue back in your mouth say the alphabet whilst over enunciating every letter. So ‘A’ would sound a bit like ‘Aaaaaaaaaay-uh!’ Difficult to write that down (!) but hopefully you get the idea.
Something else that’s beneficial is to massage your jaw and make chewing motions with the mouth wide open to help you relax through the jaw. We hold a lot of tension there which, if left, prevents us from creating the sound we want to when we speak.
You could also try the 1-10 exercise. Firstly, pick a line from what you’d like to read. Starting at number one, say that line in a stage whisper. Raise this a notch for number two and so on. Number five is around the volume of an everyday speaking voice. Number ten is the loudest volume and the sound you make could fill a large theatre. I learnt this exercise at school from my drama teacher and its one I’ve used ever since.
TWO: Look up as you read
Keeping your head in your paper can cause audience members to drift off. I’m not saying you want to stare down audience members but raising your gaze to different points of the room enables you to connect with your listeners and them to connect right back.
THREE: Perform your reading
A passionate performance that highlights the rhythm and pace of a poem or the way a character speaks in your short story or novel extract is vital to keep your audience interested. Vary the tone of your voice and play with pauses so your audience hangs onto your every word.
FOUR: Speak slowly
In fact, speak more slowly than you think you need to. Bear in mind that this is the first time your audience is hearing what you have to say. They need time to digest. Practice makes perfect. It’s a good idea to record yourself saying your reading out loud and listen back as this gives you an idea of the pace of your delivery.
FIVE: Relax, be yourself
This is a tricky one and I’m still working on it. I find it very difficult to be myself on stage. When you’re acting you can play a character, that’s different. But being you? I feel rather vulnerable. Still, the more you do it, the more natural and relaxed I think you become up there. Some of the best readings I’ve seen by writers are where they improvise their introductions and it seems like they’re just having a nice chat with you. At the moment, I write down my introductions because going off script is a bit too anxiety inducing but I aim to work towards that.
SIX: Introduce each piece
I think this is an important way to relax your audience and settle them before they hear what you’re about to say. What I’ve learnt about introducing your piece is not to give everything away. A few sentences about the inspiration for what you’re about to read or a little anecdote that leads into your piece is all you need to get everyone settled and ready to listen.
Seems like an obvious one right? You’d be surprised! When you’re nervous, as I’m sure some of you have noticed, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. You breathe into the chest rather than the abdomen and into your sides. Take the time before you go on to take deep breaths that engage the diaphragm and expand into the ribs. Try and engage the breath when you’re reading too. It’ll help steady your voice, speak more slowly and give a more relaxed delivery.