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Open Mics 101

Updated: Mar 19

Etiquette, excellence, and exactly what to do 

So you’ve got some poems and you want to hit the stage? That’s great! Open mics are a wonderful way to showcase your work to a wider audience, meet new poetry pals and connections, and get some experience reading. But whether you’re a complete newbie or you’ve been in the scene for a while, there’s some stuff you just might not know or need a refresher on. 

Within the poetry scene, there’s usually an assumption that people know what to do at open mics - how to sign up, how to introduce yourself, what to do with your hands on stage… 

But from our experience, no one tells you this. It’s often just trial and error until you crack the secret code and even then, most performers usually develop bad habits. 

So Written Off Publishing has pulled together our years of experience in poetry performance to offer up a 101 guide to poetry open mics. Keep reading to learn all the juicy details. 

Poet Caitlin Mckenna reading at an open mic

What is an open mic? 

An open mic is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s an event that facilitates performances by offering a slot for anyone to come read their work for a specific amount of time. 

There are various types of open mics, with some open to all art forms, and others limited to a specific theme or genre. So make sure you’re checking what your open mic allows before you hit the stage. For the poets, you’re in luck. While most general open mics will allow spoken word, there are already hundreds of existing poetry-specific open mics up and down the country! 

Where can you find an open mic? 

Your best bet for finding an open mic will depend on where you are. Our favourite ways to find open mics include: 

  • Searching Facebook groups 

  • Looking at event listings 

  • Checking events at your favourite venue 

  • Speaking to others in your local scene 

  • Following poets and organisers on social media 

We have a list of great communities and events to support on your website - and we’re currently working on updating this list (so if you know a great one, don’t be afraid to get in touch about it!). 

Not every open mic will be a great option for you but gathering information and asking for reviews from others is a good way to gauge whether it’s worth making the trip. 

For those with accessibility needs, this is incredibly important, and we love to highlight accessible events in the UK. Virtual open mics like the Northern Poets Society night, Speak Your Truth, and our very own monthly Written Off nights are a great way for anyone with accessibility issues, childcare commitments, or difficult travelling to get involved! 

Do you prefer in-person or virtual open mics?

  • 0%In-person

  • 0%Virtual

How do you sign up for an open mic? 

Sign-ups are largely dependent on the night, so check out the details or reach out to the organisers if you’re confused. However, there are primarily three main methods of sign-up:

  1. Sign up on the night - Turn up to the event and pop your name down on a list 

  2. Sign up in advance - Events will usually post when sign-ups are open and you can either email them or message them to express interest and get your name down. Once sign-ups are full, that’s it. So make sure to get your name down early if you want to guarantee a slot. 

  3. Raffle slots - When there’s usually a large number of people interested in performing, some events will decide that a raffle system is the fairest way to choose performers. You’ll pop your name down either beforehand or on the night and they’ll choose performers from a hat randomly.

To avoid disappointment you should be checking how sign-ups work for the night you’re looking at attending. Turning up late and expecting to read is almost guaranteed to result in a bad time. 

What should you read? 

Before you even start planning what you’re going to read you need to know how long your set time will be. Open mics will differ on the length of your set so once again, check the details of the event or get in touch with the organisers beforehand if you’re unsure. Some nights give all performers five minutes, while others can go up to 15 or 20-minute slots. 

Please, please, please (we’re begging you), do not go over your allotted time! Event organisers plan the length of sets to make sure the night runs smoothly and everyone gets a chance to read. If you go over your time then it means that the rest of the writers aren’t able to read their work. If you want to be welcomed into a community of writers and performers, it’s a great idea to be as respectful as possible. Plan your set out and practice it - including your introductions and any plugging (we’ll get onto this later). 

When you’re thinking of your set, consider if there’s a theme of the night. Some open nights have a specific theme all the time. Others might pick a theme of the month. Mostly though, open mics are completely open. That means you can read whatever you like!

Poet Art reads at an open mic

Trigger warnings/content warnings


So you’re putting your set together and you realise some of your work contains themes that might be uncomfortable or even dangerous for your audience to consume. That doesn’t mean you have to entirely avoid reading that piece. A lot of people will tell hosts they don’t know how and when to use trigger warnings, so it’s easier for them to just not. 

In the eyes of Written Off, content warnings are amazing! The majority of our books won’t contain content warnings before the pieces, due to the fact it’s clear what the content will be in the blurb, description, and introduction of the work. You know what you’re getting into, right? 

But with an open mic set, there’s none of that warm-up. The majority of your audience probably won’t have read your work or heard you perform before, so a warning is a great idea. It’s up to you whether you preface your entire set with a content warning or whether you use them before the individual poems that they’re relevant to. Before jumping into reading, a simple ‘So content warning for sexual references/mental health/suicidal thoughts’ can be extremely useful. It indicates the content that might be triggering for your audience to hear and allows them to prepare themselves, or even tune out or leave the room while the piece is being performed. 

You might think it’s pointless, or even just annoying but what you’re doing is making sure everyone in the room is safe. Would you rather take two seconds to preface a piece or end up accidentally causing pain to someone who just wants to hear what you have to say? 


So, you’ve planned your set! That’s great. But what do you do when you get on stage? 

When you sign up to perform, the host will usually take your name so they can call you up to the stage. For the audience to find you nowadays or remember you though, that’s not always enough. Introductions are important when you’re trying to make a name for yourself. So say your name! Tell the audience who you are. Give a little context behind your pieces and don’t be shy of trying to make a splash. This is best done however feels natural to you but if you want a little bit of inspiration a usual introduction might be: 

“Hey, I’m Stan and I’m a poet from Leeds! I’ve been doing this for a little while now and my poetry usually focuses on mythology, folklore, and the night. If you like anything I read tonight, feel free to come chat with me afterwards and let me know!’ 

It’s that simple. 

Plugging any upcoming gigs or books can be popped into your set whenever you like, but stuffing your introduction full of the amazing things you’re doing or have done is likely to turn any eager listeners off before you’ve even started. The best way we’ve heard it described is like a sandwich. Let the audience know who you are with your intro, wow them with your work, and then remind them you’re doing more stuff after you’ve got them hooked. Then you’re free to hop off the stage and enjoy the rest of your night! 

You’ve talked the talk, how do you walk the walk? 

We’re not going to tell you how to walk on and off the stage - just do your thing! But if you’re nervous about the parts of performing that don’t involve your words, we might have a few small pieces of advice for you. 

When you’re reading at an open mic, translating confidence is always the most important thing. Just like with any other form of public speaking, think 

  1. Eye contact 

  2. Back straight, shoulders back, look ahead 

  3. Don’t fidget 

If you want to wander around - do it. If you want to sit on the floor - do it. If you want to incorporate props - do it. Just remember that if you have a mic, make sure you’re using it right (keep an eye on our pages for tutorials soon) and keep it in front of your mouth while you read. Having a lot of ideas about the kind of performer you want to be and elevating your sets is an amazing thing. But don’t run before you can walk. Build up the fundamentals and make sure you’re not detracting away from the power of your words. 

Poet Alex Callaghan reads at an open mic

Open Mics and Beyond 

We’ve almost reached the end, folks. In this blog post, the Written Off team have outlined the basics of performing poetry at open mics from finding them to crafting a set. Reading your work is one of the most fulfilling things writers can do, but make sure you’re not just seeing them as a way to promote your own work. 

Open mics allow you to find other writers and artists who can inspire you to progress and get better. They’re special places where you can network and build a community. Never forget the importance of that community. Your peers will be the ones pushing you, reading your work, helping you improve, and applauding you along the way. But that’s only the case if you’re giving that back too. Only attending open mics to hear your own voice is as bad as having a conversation in a mirror. Without hearing other poet’s work we would never have gotten to the point where we could offer advice, hold workshops, or publish anyone else's work. More than that though - they remind us why we do this. We love poetry. Who doesn’t want to indulge in new poetry? To find new favourites and watch someone flourish over time? Remember, you only get as much from the scene as you give to it. 

Keep in mind that you deserve the space on the stage as much as anyone else who has signed up for a slot. If you apologise for taking that time up or compare yourself to the other performers, you’ll only ever make the audience side with you and compare you as well. The more confident you are in your ability, the more they’ll be likely to respond and resonate with your words. 

You never know what could happen at an open mic. You could meet your best writing pal, you could get noticed by event organisers and publishers, or you could find a new style that influences you more than anything else. Or… you could just have a great time. The only way to find out is to get involved. 

So go out and start performing. Let us know how it goes. 


Caitlin Mckenna is a poet and spoken word performer from Leeds. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @caitisapoet.


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The one I always forget to mention is don't wear hats that will cover your face! People are more likely to remember a face than a name, and some people rely on lip reading to understand what you're saying due to deafness or auditory processing issues.


Having this kind of info out there is so important, otherwise it does feel like some poets just know how to do it and the rest of us didn’t get the memo 😁 so thank you! Agree that going to open mics and listening to others is so rewarding, a lot of poetry comes alive in a totally different way when you hear the poet reading it.

My experience at open mics (the good ones) is an environment of mutual support, knowing others don’t want you to fail or anything and that if you fumble your words occasionally a hook don’t appear stage left and pull you from the mic. That’s just if you over run…

As a disabled and…

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