Tips for spoken word

Writing spoken word poetry can be fun, but it can also be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Here are some great tips to help you express your thoughts and feelings through poetry.

Jesse Oliver Australian Poetry Slam Champion Adult 2017
  • Use different senses.

    We have five – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Instead of just talking about how things look, show the audience what they sound like, smell like, taste like and feel like. You don’t have to use all of them, but using more than one will add depth to your imagery.

  • Avoid clichés.

    Poetry has been around for centuries, and some images and phrases have been used so much they’ve lost their meaning. Find unique ways of describing things by focusing on you and your experiences.

  • Think about the dynamics of your poem.

    Nobody wants to hear the exact same thing for two minutes. Try to vary how quickly you deliver your lines, use loud and soft passages, shorter pauses and longer pauses. Let the words sink in with your audience – it isn’t a race!

  • Engage your audience.

    The power of spoken word poetry is that it happens right in front of our eyes. Take advantage of this! Make eye contact with your audience, use your hands to gesture to people or images you are describing, think about your posture and body language.

  • Who are the characters in your poem?

    All our favourite stories have characters we care about, and the same goes for poetry. These ‘characters’ won’t always be people: they might be objects, animals, places, emotions, anything. Who or what is the audience rooting for?

  • Think about the ‘emotional arc’ of your poem.

    What do you want people to feel at the beginning? What do you want them to feel at the end? The best poems will take the audience on an emotional journey.

  • You don’t have to rhyme – it’s up to you!

    Rhyming can be a great way to give your poem energy, but sometimes it can put you in a box that’s hard to break out of. Don’t force it. Choose words that get the meaning of your poem across. If they rhyme – great! If they don’t rhyme – also great!

  • Use specific imagery.

    Instead of talking about a house, talk about the grains in the timber floorboards or the creak the back door makes. The more specific your imagery, the easier it will be for people to see what you’re trying to show them.

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Remember: poetry is all about individual expression! These points are just suggestions, and no two poems will be the same. Use this list to guide you along the way, but at the end of the day we are all individuals with our own stories to tell. Go tell them!