Poetry Facts

5 Steps to Deal With Nerves Before A Poetry Slam

Last Updated: October 23, 2022

Many poets don’t like to perform in front of a crowd. Why struggle to deliver your lines on stage, when you can sit at home and let your poems do the talking? Believe it or not, poetry first started as an oral art, not a written one. In the tribe, poets were story tellers, passing down histories and lessons to future generations. That’s why you should read your poems in public, because it’s an inherent value of poetry.

But you probably understood all that already. Maybe you’ve signed up for an open mic next week, and now you’re just trying to prepare for it. In this article, you’ll learn how to deal with nerves before a poetry slam and make the best out of your performance.

Step 1: Prepare an interesting piece of work

To participate in slam poetry is to deliver your message to an audience, essentially. That means slam poetry has two parts, delivering and message.

Before thinking about your delivering, you need to have a meaningful, powerful message first. You can perform in the most charming ways, but if the message in your poem is boring, people won’t remember.

So, have a message. Choose one that represents you, something that you actually care about so that your passion can come off in the performance.

But here’s the tricky part: you also have to choose a message that is suitable to the audience. Your message can be powerful, but if it does not resonate with your audience, it won’t work. Which brings us to the next step:

Step 2: Study your audience

Studying your audience will give you a distinct advantage in any slam poetry event. This allows you to cater your message and delivery to the crowd, making the biggest impact. The two most important things about an audience that you have to know before hand are venue and geography.

Understanding the venue helps you have a performance that is the most suitable to the context. Performing at a competition and a comedy event are two completely different things, and they should be treated as such.

Next, study about the people in the city that you’re going to perform your poems. Learn everything from their slang to their values; make sure what you’re trying to say with your three minutes on stage is something that they care about.

Step 3: Pick an idol

When you’re new to slam poetry, no matter how many tips you read online, it’s going to be hard to imagine what it actually looks and sounds like. That’s why you need to pick your favorite spoken word artist (i.e. your idol).

Go online and watch all of their performances, attend their gigs if you can. Take note of what makes you like them. Is it their voices, the way they use their hands, or their strong but appropriate eye contacts? Immerse yourself in their performances, then try to replicate that in your own way.

Of course, you won’t be able to perform like your idol, nor do you want to do that. You will form your own style over time. But having a clear idea of what an ideal performance is like will help you tremendously during practice. Which, conveniently, is our next step.

Step 4: Practice, practice, practice

Now it’s time to practice your delivering. It’s time to step in front of a mirror and do rehearsals over and over. Visualize your idol and try to imitate their strong points.

Practice your enunciation, breathing, pacing, posture, and everything else that you need to work on. You can film yourself performing and study the tape to find out what needs to be improved.

Put in the reps until you’re confident enough, then start rehearsing in front of your closed ones. Learn to interact with the audience, read their body language, and adjust yourself accordingly.

Practice as much as you can. Remember, good preparation is what makes the anxiety go away, not affirmation.

Step 5: Embrace your fear

If this is your very first performance, chances are, you’re still going to feel a little bit of fear before going on stage no matter how well you prepare. That’s okay.

Even experienced public speakers get nervous sometimes. For some people, that feeling may never go away. But know this: you will get better at dealing with it over time.

Now is your time to shine. Let the feeling run through your veins, and channel all that energy into your performance.

Final thoughts

So that’s how you deal with nerves before a poetry slam. As you might have noticed, there’s no secret, just good preparation and work ethic.

No matter how your performance goes, know this: sharing your work in front of a crowd is a very brave thing to do. The fact that you’ve stepped up to the challenge is enough to be proud of yourself already. Good luck!

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