Some advice on setting up a spoken word night

This time of year more than any other, as autumn beds in and slowly becomes winter, it feels good to find somewhere cosy to relax with a book – whether poetry or fiction. It resonates with an ancient part of our psyche that remembers stories told around a fire. So it’s also a good time of year to find somewhere that does a spoken word night. If there aren’t any near where you live then it’s a shame. Perhaps someone should set one up. Maybe you could be the person to do it – create a night that everyone can enjoy, particularly if you have written plenty of stories and poems but have few opportunities to try them out on an audience.

Here’s 5 things to think about to help you start your own night of spoken word:

 1.   Venue

It’s important to find the right place – at the very least a venue that can accommodate a few people and maybe even provide a few chairs or cushions. Perhaps you already have a favourite café or bar that you regularly frequent. Approach the owner or manager and sound them out about using their back room, or the whole place – make sure you’ve got a clear idea of what you would like to put on, even if the details are vague at this point. It helps the venue to see your vision clearly and perhaps they will also see a few extra people buying drinks or food on a slow Wednesday or Thursday.

The night I help to run in Lincoln is at a lovely café: The Angel Coffee House. From the beginning they’ve been friendly and open to helping our night be as big a success as possible. Have a look:

 2.   Theme/Name

If there aren’t any spoken word nights already in your area then choosing a good name for your event is crucial to piquing interest and making it clear what it’s all about.

Conversely, if there are already spoken word events where you live, but nothing quite like you have in mind, then choosing a good name for your event is crucial to piquing interest and making it clear what it’s all about.

The event that I’m part of is called 15 Minute Fiction. No one can speak for longer than 15 minutes and our night is dedicated to fiction! It’s a clear, concise name and I think it has a ring to it. What’s your night? Fiction? Poetry? A mix? Is there a time limit? Do you encourage experimental performances or is it going to be a calm affair? Your name can say a lot about what you’re aiming for so give it some thought.

3.   Promotion

Once you have a venue and a name you’re on your way. Now you have to promote it so people know what a fabulous event it will be. Can your venue help out with promotion? It might just be something written on their chalk board but ask them also to add you to the info on their website if they have one. Of course there is also the usual Twitter/Facebook/Instagram etc. In the weeks leading up to the event keep on posting about it – even when plenty of people say they are interested there’s a world of difference between social media likes and actual people turning up, so maintain digital promotion right up to the event. Don’t forget the traditional ways of spreading the word – flyers and posters are still valuable in locations where the people you want to attract tend to go. Make sure you have a joined up look to any graphics or info that appear in both the real world and the digital one. Send out a clear message of how awesome it is! It can be hard going with promotion but doing the hard work in the beginning will pay off once you have established your event as a regular feature.

 4.   The Event

When the day or evening comes make sure you have everything you need and you have a clear plan as to how you want things to unfold – at least for the beginning, middle and end. Obviously things can change so it’s also good to be flexible and fluid if needs be; maybe the 10 minute break needs to be 15. Maybe I’ll skip all that talk at the end about how special it’s been.

It’s crucial to have a clear idea of time. You should have decided whether there’s a limit to how long people can read and how you are going to track those that want a slot (we tried chalk and a small board but it was awkward). If you are acting as compere make sure you have an idea of your intro – are there any ground rules that need to be mentioned? What refreshments are there? As compere try and give the proceedings energy and enthusiasm, then the audience can pick up on your vibe. The most important thing is to make sure you have fun. That’s what it’s all about!

 5.   Keep going

Perhaps everything will go smoothly – lots of people turn up, lots of great readings and lots of congratulations. But maybe it won’t go quite as you envisioned. That’s ok. You can work on things for the next event. Now you have an idea of what to tweak; it takes time to find your format and get the groove. For our first 15 Minute Fiction we had a reasonable amount of people – not many wanted to read but we still had a good night. The second time, a month later, went ok too but on our third installment we had the classic one man and his dog as an audience. We were frustrated but, hey, we had improved things and we were determined to keep going and so we have. Get out there and give it a go - it's a great way to interact with other writers and meet new people who share your enthusiasm for the spoken word.