How to Run a Poetry Night: Hosting

A series on how to plan and run a successful poetry night. This essay looks at how to host properly and why it is important.

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© 2018 Epytome / Used With Permission

Follows: Promoting

Hosting is the art of presenting your artists as well as possible. There’s a lot more going on than simply introducing the next act, and there’s a fine line between making the night as entertaining as possible for everyone and making everything about you.

1. Learn your role

The host’s job is to reset the energy in between acts and make everyone seem like a star, not to hog the attention.

2. Learn the basic tech requirements

Don’t point speakers at the microphone. Learn how to adjust a microphone stand. Find the light switches before you need them. If you can’t learn these things, then maybe running events isn’t for you.

3. Build the event to your taste

There are hundreds of nights—make yours reflect you as an artist and as a person. That is your biggest unique selling point, so use it to your advantage.

4. Find out about the acts beforehand

This is vital. As a host, you have to big them up. Don’t just blag it on the night. Ask for bios, or three facts, or whatever you need to showcase the acts.

5. Plan your line-up

Balance acts you know well with acts you don’t. Balance the performers who deliver with those who need work. Don’t put a string of poets who are known for sad work on next to each other.

6. Be enthusiastic

Your energy makes the night more than anything else. Every single person who comes up on your stage should be a big deal, even if they aren’t yet. Be excited for them, be thankful, and pay attention. A lacklustre intro can be saved with a massive outro.

7. Take notes on the line up

Note down lines you like, how the acts went down, and so on. Data is good, it will help you evaluate it later.

8. Learn when to put in breaks

People can only really pay attention for twenty minutes, so build your breaks around that. I’m a fan of a break every hour minimum; they give people a chance to order drinks (which is probably how the venue justifies having you if you aren’t paying for the space), go to the bathroom, and talk.

9. Speak clearly

Enunciate your words. If you need to pause, do so. A brief pause is better than an “um.” Plan what you are saying if you need to. I use certain hand actions to bring the train of thought back on track if I think I’m running out of things to say.

10. The show is not about you

Don’t take up too much time. It’s okay to not perform at gigs you run. In fact, I encourage it; hosting and performing are two different jobs, so don’t sacrifice quality from one in order to do the other.

11. Be selective

If someone doesn’t do a good job, you don’t have to book them again. Offer feedback and opportunities more suited to them, or even workshops that might help. A refusal doesn’t have to be rude, but it can be important for development.

12. Be ambitious

Think about what you can do to make things bigger. Go to other events and keep your eyes and ears peeled for new things you can bring to your night. Ideas are cheap—there’s no harm building on the concept of another—but don’t steal an idea directly.

13. Don’t let someone take over

It’s a sad fact that, at some point, someone will try and challenge the host. They want more time or they want to talk during the show. As the organiser, it’s up to you to tell them the rules. Should you have to ask someone to leave, do so confidently and firmly. Don’t let them derail the night for everyone else—poetry is not interactive.

14. Plan your ending

Don’t think you have to run and run and run. Set a time and wrap the show up on a strong note. If you don’t, you’ll find the last poets performing to an empty room, and no one wants that.

15. Learn to laugh it off

Sometimes, things go wrong. Getting moody doesn’t fix it—instead, it just kills the energy of the night.

16. Never guilt-trip your audience

Whether it’s over pay or attendance, people owe you very little. Pleading puts people off.

17. Be the last one to leave

Thank everyone for coming and shake their hands. Use the end of the gig as a time to press flesh and hear feedback and compliments.

18. Accept compliments and critique

This is important: people’s opinions will help you grow.


The host effectively runs the show on the night, they’re the first port of call for any issues and they are the face of the event. A good host is everything.


Next: Managing

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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