How to run a successful literature open mic night

Voted the UK's Best Regular Spoken Word Night 2015 and 2016, live literature organisers Bad Language share their tips on how to run a rocking open mic night. 

How to run a successful literature open mic night

858014f2298a57e4ad28595d151ba07e5a848e1e.jpgLiterature open mic nights have a reputation for beardy poets shouting clichéd couplets, or mumbling novelists trudging through 92,000 chapters. But grassroots spoken word events in the UK are actually full of life: from the grand theatrics of Loud Poets in Edinburgh to the indie-rock sensibility of Evidently in Salford. So how do you run a successful literature open mic night? Here are some tips from Bad Language in Manchester, twice winner of the Saboteur Award for Best Regular Spoken Word Night in the UK.

Find your niche

Every night should have its ‘thing’. Do you play word games? Do you have lots of students? Do you use visuals? Are the hosts the new Dick and Dom? Find what’s unique to you and stick to it. 

Be a total pro

Whether they’re a Man Booker Prize-winner or a plucky beginner, treat every performer as if they’re the next JK Rowling. Provide a quality service to them, and pay people when you can. Raise your game and your performers will raise theirs.

Widen your audience

If the same people come each time, it’s a social, not an event. Go looking for your audience. Shout about your headliners, and advertise open mic opportunities as widely as you can. We reserve spots for newcomers – a useful way to get new faces. 

No – REALLY widen your audience

Slice your night down the middle. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Challenge your (lack of) diversity, especially if every event is full of middle-class white blokes – including the headliners.

Communicate well

9308b9fec3bd01553114a00cd4f2d657c3584c69.jpgDon’t be shy. Have a clear open mic sign-up policy, and be upfront about what is expected of performers. Email them again and ask them to advertise their appearance. Welcome them generously on the night. 

Lead well

Aside from the sheer joy of literature, your compere is the one element that will energise the audience and performers. She or he should be the strongest entertainer at your event. 

The clock is king

Keep readings short, and ask people to respect their allotted time. Waffley McNovelist really doesn’t need to read their whole chapter. An audience rarely forgives a night which runs on too long. Leave the audience wanting more. 

Learn how to use a microphone

It’s your job to master that microphone. Know how to adjust the stand without making a fuss. Get some mixing desk tips from an audio boffin. Don’t let your sound gear be a barrier for anyone.

Plug other nights

If you want to live in vacuum, become an astronaut. Your night is part of a wider community, so do plug other events with wild abandon. Share your audiences and grow together.

Follow the star(s)

What next? Wendy Wordsmith has killed it at the open mic, but does she now disappear into the ether? Recognise great writers. Follow up on your best performers – find them new chances to read elsewhere.

More about Bad Language

Website -

Follow on Twitter - @BadLanguageMcr

Read an interview with Bad Language's co-producer Fat Roland 

More how-to guides

For more how-to guides head to our how-to guides Voicebox or check out this guide on how to review a dance performance.  


Nici West

Nici West Voice Team

Nici is the an editor for Voice. She loves all things books, theatre, music, art, visiting other countries, anything creative, and sometimes attempts to make YouTube videos. Alongside Voice she writes and edits through her own pursuits.You can occasionally find her running marathons dressed as a black dog.

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