Public Poetry Readings

Seven Steps to an Effective Poetry Reading


Clark Crouch
Past Director, Toastmasters International


1. Know your audience
Find out about the venue and the people who will be there. Their interests and needs will vary.

2. Identify your purpose
Decide what you want to accomplish. For the most part, public readings are for the purpose of entertaining the audience but there are other purposes as well…to educate, sell books, etc.

3. Select your poems
Select poems appropriate to this audience and which will accomplish your purpose. Seniors might appreciate a touch of nostalgia and your poetic peers might value hearing some non-traditional or experiential verse while “occupational poets” (loggers, cowboys, fishers, etc.) will value material which has true rhyme and consistent rhythm. With few exceptions, good humor is always appropriate.


4.   Reach out
Establish a rapport with the audience and reach out to them. You are there for them, not for yourself, and they want you to succeed so reach out with eye contact, a smile, perhaps a question. Also, if you can involve the audience, it will enhance their acceptance and appreciation of your presentation.

5.   Set the stage
A brief comment or two about what inspired a poem, or to place it in context with the event, can help the audience understand and appreciate it. Also, if your poem contains unusual words or acronyms, an audience will appreciate knowing in advance. If reciting several poems, build a bridge to transition from one to another.

6.   “Know” your poems
Be sufficiently familiar with your material so you can read your poems well while still maintaining contact with the audience. Although some poets memorize their material, that is not necessary so long as you know your material well enough to read it effectively.

7.   Stand up, Speak up, Shut up

  • Stand up so people can see you. Always position yourself so the audience can see your facial expressions and your body language, using a lectern when available. You’ll also want to be able to see the audience to assess their hearing, reception, and understanding of your poetry.
  • Speak up so they can hear you. Speak to the audience (especially projecting to those in the back row), not to your manuscript. Read with vocal expression and variation consistent with your poem’s theme. Know how to use a microphone and do use it when it’s available.
  • Shut up so they will like you. Religiously observe any time limits set for your presentation and quit on time.