General Performance Tips: 

1. Have Fun.

2. Stay true to your muse and yourself.

3. Know the rules. Both the actual competition rules, and the unspoken rules of the venue.

4. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you were a professional musician, you’d be at it for several hours every day. At least put 15 mins into your performance every day, especially before an important gig. Consider it exercise, just like lifting weights. It doesn’t have to be brilliant or meaningful every time. Just keep rehearsing.

5. Don’t rehearse “wrong.” Don’t learn your mistakes or bad habits. Practice just like you’re performing. Pretend a crowd is responding. Keep track of your time.DSC_0562

6. If you try to out-do someone, there will always be somebody bigger and stronger. If you simply be yourself, nobody can do it better. I believe that the poet who is MOST themselves will get the greatest points based on character alone.

7. Wear clothes that emphasize your strengths. This IS a performance, after all! Don’t be afraid of overdressing. Dark or bold colors are often best. Avoid pure white unless you need to make a point it washes out in the spot lights and overloads cameras. But do not be contrived or untrue to yourself. Emphasize your uniqueness without alienating the audience.

8. Observe, observe, observe. Find new ways of approaching your work and interacting with the audience. Ask questions.

9. Find a “master” and study them. Read their work and take what you like from it. Observe their movements on stage and emulate what works for you. Listen to their vocalizations and the “music” of their speech. Try reciting your work in their “voice,” as if you were an actor. Find new a new master as soon as you’ve exhausted the last.

10. Cherish criticism, but consider the source. “The best a person’s advice can get you is where it has gotten them.” Find friends whom you respect and will be honest with you, then ask them about your performances. Don’t be surprised when a big visiting poet was too busy selling chapbooks to pay any attention to the details of your performance.

11. Tape yourself.

12. Perform in front of a mirror.



Vocalization Tips:

1. Stand up straight. You look more confident, the light hits you better, you get better breath, sound better, and it gets your face and voice up over the heads of audience members.

2. Take several deep breaths before speaking.

3. Breathe deeply while speaking!

4. Lift your chin. You look more confident. You will breathe and speak

more clearly. Gives you more volume and range. Helps in projecting your


DSC_05765. Move your mouth. Open your mouth wide. Over-extend your mouth

movements. BIG “O’s” Wide “Ah’s”

6. Speak from your diaphragm, from deep down. Avoid speaking with your mouth, throat, or nose. You sound more confident, project better, vocalize more smoothly, and can speak much much longer.

7. Try to minimize “popping” on the mic. Soften your “P’s”. Try pronouncing them almost as “B’s” The crowd won’t notice.

8. Try to minimize “hissing” on the mic. Soften your “S’s”. Try pronouncing them almost as “Z’s” The crowd won’t notice.

9. Know your mic. It is a musical instrument. Learn how to “play” it.

Test every mic before using, especially if the venue does not have a sound person to adjust the levels for you. Get a sense of the best distance to stand from the mic. Move in close to whisper, move away to shout. Practice using a mic both on a mic stand and and hand-held.

10. Avoid drinking alcohol before your set, especially if you have a long set or more than one set. It dries out the vocal chords QUICKLY and will cause your voice to break. Even one beer or shot will do plenty of damage.

11. Bring a water bottle with you to gigs. Keep you vocal chords wet. If you’ve been drinking alcohol, wash with warm water. Avoid cold water. It shocks the system.


At A Slam:

1. Arrive early.

2. Get yourself a glass of room-temp water, or bring a water bottle (in a non-bar venue).

3. Introduce yourself to the MC. Ask them if there is anything you should know for the show. Get on their good side if possible. They can unconsciously help in many ways.

4. Test the mic, learn how to adjust it.

5. Go onstage and find the “Sweet Spot.” Where the spotlight will hit your face, where the audience can best see you. Whereyou want to be when you perform. Where the acoustics are best, especially if there is no sound system. If you are reading off the page, make sure you have enough light.

6. Familiarize yourself with the rules, how many rounds, ect.

7. Know when you will perform.

8. Plan your route up to the stage, especially if the room is packed and difficult to move through. Often, the judges have made up their mind before you’ve even started your poem, so be conscious of your non-verbal behavior.

9. Know who the judges are, perhaps their biases.

10. Get a feeling for the audience, what they want. What you want to say to them.

11. Take a walk, stretch, get your blood pumping. Rehearse your piece. Don’t perform “cold.”

12. Be ready near the stage when your name is called.DSC_0454

13. Adjust the mic to suit your height.

14. Pause and breathe before beginning.

15. Make eye contact, stand up straight.

16. Don’t pander to the judges, but don’t ignore them, either.

17. Be energetic, even if your energy is directed toward calm or blues.

18. Be prepared for interruptions.

19. Be PRESENT. Often, the greatest challenge of a performance is making a well-rehearsed poem fresh all over again.

20. Vary the intensity of delivery.

21. Leave stage quickly and smoothly.

22. Do not be overly concerned with scores, especially in the first round.


Basic Strategy:

1. Have fun. Have fun before taking the stage, on the stage, and off the stage. People will notice and reward you.

2. Be a good sport. Better to let some asshole win on a technicality this time and leave with the audience on your side.

3. Be confident. Audiences respect humility, but love confidence.

4. Know the rules, when you’ll be reading, and who you follow.

5. If you break a rule, do it with STYLE.

6. Be friendly with the organizers, bring friends to be in the audience. Consider that the prize may be $20, but the people you meet can often hook you up with paying gigs, even if (or maybe because) you lost a slam.

7. Watch the judges and consider what they are scoring high. Consider what their biases may be.

8. Do your best work FIRST. If you don’t advance to the next round, it won’t matter what you still have left in reserve.

9. Consider who you are following, and what style of poem they are most likely to do. Pick a couple likely responses.

10. Consider who follows you, and if you have a poem which “shuts them down” before they even speak.

11. Know who you are, or at least what “character” type you are most likely to be perceived as. Be aware that a poet before you or after you may use a character that “trumps” yours. I liken this to a deck of cards; a King trumps a Jack, an Ace (or team piece) can trump a King.

12. The audience will always struggle to “peg” you as a person or archetype before they listen to the poem. Time they spend trying to figure out what makes YOU tick is time taken from your poem. Consider ways of dressing and non-verbal behaviors which will help them to recognize who you are or wish to be perceived AS QUICKLY as possible.DSC_0410

13. Lead the audience, do not Boss the audience.

14. Show, not Tell.

15. Audiences want to be told what they already know. They want their expectations to be filled, especially regarding acting out your archetype. How you choose to remain true to yourself is what makes you an individual. If you can convince an audience what they really want to know is something only you have, something unexpected, then you’ve got it in the bag.

16. You can only continue to “One Up” a particular subject/style/poem twice before scores begin to drop.

17. After a topic has been overdone, or three poets in a row have attempted to “One Up” each other, then this is the perfect time to “Flip” the energy and do something completely different. Like a comedic piece after three heavy political pieces.

18. If the poet ahead of you bombed, then avoid doing the same kind of poem, even if your version is much better.

19. Vary the level of intensity of delivery during your performance.

20. Honesty beats artifice, sincerity beats sarcasm, drama beats comedy, team beats individual, emotion beats reason, politics beat sex. Most of the time. Again, if you can make yourself the exception, your reward will be that much greater.

21. Most slams are popularity contests. Some slams are about choosing the competitor most worthy to be called “Poet.” Some slams will only let you win if you are an embodiment of what the audiences itself wishes to be. Other slams are unspoken auditions for gigs. Tryto figure out what the TRUE prize of a slam is, and proceed accordingly.
Dismissing the unspoken prize can set you apart from the crowd- for better or worse.

22. You can never lose if you learn something.




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