During lockdown, more and more poets were forced to launch their books through online events and organise online readings and performances. Here, our Poetry & Spoken Word Group offer tips and advice on how to prepare an online poetry event – including the structure, technical bits, registration, getting ready and, most importantly, how to enjoy it.
Structuring the event
Shorter is better. It’s harder for your audience to concentrate when looking at a screen, so try to keep your reading/performance shorter rather than longer. Ideally, a book launch should last no more than 15 minutes.
Find someone to introduce you. Especially in the case of a book launch, having someone who can introduce you, instead of having to introduce yourself, looks more professional. Maybe ask your publisher, or a fellow poet.
Think about the questions. Do you want to open the (virtual) floor to questions after the reading, receive them throughout the event, or receive them in advance via email? If you are taking questions during/after the event, remember to instruct people on how to do this: virtually raising their hand to talk, or using the chat. You could also ask the person who is going to introduce you to read the questions to you.
Connect with the audience. If you feel comfortable, you could show your audience something of your workspace or the space where you are reading from (in which case, choose your location carefully!)
Choose the right platform. There are many online event platforms out there, many of them free. Choose the right one for you by taking into account the length of the event (e.g. is there a time limit to the free version of the platform?) and useful tools for your event (e.g. a chat, a raise-your-hand function, a question box…).
Check your broadband. Make sure that the connection is strong enough. You might want to place yourself as close as possible to the router or even connect your laptop to the internet via Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi.
Do a sound check. Make sure that your computer microphone is good enough. Check this by recording yourself and playing the recording back.
Think about lighting. You want people to be able to see your face clearly, so you might need to block out external light and use a lamp instead. Work out your ideal set-up before the event, and check again just before your event starts; the light will change considerably in your home / space of choice throughout the day.
Place the webcam in line with your eyes. If you don’t have a laptop stand, you can place a couple of dictionaries or chunky books under your computer in order for it to reach the right height. Avoid a view from below or too high above – take some time to adjust your monitor or laptop screen.
Choose the background. Check what people will be able to see in the background. Bookshelves are always a popular choice, but a colourful wall is also great. Avoid an untidy background.
Have a practice session. Run a test with someone a few days before the event to make sure that everything is working as planned.
Think about recording the event. If the event is live, you can record it and then edit it so that it can be shared on social media later. If other people are taking part in the event, remember to ask them for permission to record and share the video.
Ask someone to do the tech during the event. If possible, have someone else in charge of the technical side of the event while this is going on. This way you won’t have to fiddle about too much if something goes wrong. The same person could also keep an eye on any questions coming through and flag them for you.
Keep the trolls out. Make sure you don’t post the login details of your event publicly online; it’s best to email them directly to the people who registered for the event. You could also consider setting up a password to access it.
Consider the price. If you are going to ticket the event, remember that the poetry audience includes many people who work in the arts, one of the sectors most affected by the impact on incomes of the COVID-19 crisis. You could also consider donations, instead of a fixed price, with a recommended donation amount, if the technology allows it.
Sell your book. People expect to be able to buy books at a book launch. Make sure to send a link to where they can buy or pre-order the book online, both in the chat during the event (ask your technical back-up to do this for you) or afterwards (or both!). If you can, also pin the link at the top of the chat box that appears during the event (if your online platform allows this).
Attend other events. It’s a good idea to attend a few other online readings and book launches before doing your own, in order to get a feeling of how it is from the point of view of the audience – and to find inspiration! Make a note of what you liked and disliked, and what you might change.
Prepare as you would for live events. Practice the poems you want to read, know how long you are reading for, check and check again the timing of each poem, and make notes for any introductions you would like to give each poem.
Remember to look into the camera. Put a colourful sticker by the webcam as a reminder to yourself.
Prepare your notes. Reading from the screen will allow for more eye contact and less rustling of papers. If you feel confident, you could also share the poems with the audience on the screen (make sure to test this beforehand).
Position yourself. Sitting might feel more comfortable but standing can give you more energy. Either way, make sure that you can be seen and heard throughout.
Silence your phone. Remember also to disable your computer notifications. And remind other people in your household to be quiet, if they can (but everybody will forgive an unexpected guest appearance).
Be yourself. You are a poet, not a tech-genius or a screen professional (though you might be both, most aren’t), so if you need to fiddle a bit with the laptop there is no shame in it. Just be as prepared as you can in order to feel more confident.
Enjoy it! You should be among friends, and you might even find new ones.
This article was put together by the SoA's Poetry & Spoken Word Group committee.
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