Tips for Reciting Poetry


Poetry is an oratory art. It is important to be mindful of poetry’s role as a

performance as well as entertainment. Some basic poetry reading guidelines will

ensure you give the best recital possible.


Preparing to Recite Poetry to an Audience



Know your material.


The best way to boost your confidence level when reciting poetry is to

know your material inside and out.


Recite phrases naturally.


Try to recite each

sentence or phrase as naturally as possible, as if you

were speaking to someone one-on-one.


Speak loudly and clearly.


If you’re going to be reciting to a large audience, your recital will sound

better if you project your voice. Imagine the sound coming from deep in

your belly. Imagine each word and phrase rising up, lifting out of your

mouth and flying across the room like a bird. This visualization sounds silly

but it’s important to think of your words as lifting over your audience. You

want to make sure that the people in the back of the room can understand

every single word you’re saying.


Slow down.


If you’re nervous when standing up and speaking in front of a crowd, you’ll

likely tend to speed up so as to get it over more quickly. Be aware, though,

that if you’re afraid of people judging your performance, ruining your

recitation by rushing through it won’t improve their estimation of your

abilities. Speak slowly and enunciate each word clearly.

You’ll know you’ve slowed down enough when you feel as though you’re


too slowly. Try to resist the impulse to speed up.


Be expressive!


The only thing worse than a performer pausing awkwardly at the end of

each line is a performer who drones on in monotone. Use the context of

your poem to determine its delivery. If a poem is sad, recite it like you just

heard that a friend’s loved one just died and you are offering your

condolences. Is the poem funny? Recite it as if it were the funniest joke

you’ve ever heard. Most of all, plan areas in the poem to emphasize. Plan

pauses in your delivery (although don’t pause too long or people will think

you’re finished and start applauding – and starting up again when your

audience thinks you’ve finished is awkward and embarrassing).

The key word here is “plan.” Good performances require proper planning.


Record yourself.


After you’ve practiced in private on speaking slowly, clearly, and projecting

your voice so people can hear you, you should record yourself (either on

audio or video tape) and review your performance. Did you speak too

quickly? Mumble? If you videotaped yourself, examine your posture. Are

you slouching? Fiddling with your hands?

Knowing the weaknesses in your performance will help you to focus on

those areas and improve on them.

Showtime: Tips for Giving a Good Poetry Performance

Now that you know your poem, have practiced reciting it, and are ready to

perform your poem in front of an audience, here are some tips to consider to help

in your performance.


Dress for success.


You want people to focus on the

words you’re reciting, and not your

appearance. So, dress conservatively formal for best results.


Strike a pose.


How you stand will affect how you recite a poem. Don’t slouch. Keep your

shoulders back (so you can throw those words out farther) and don’t put

your hands in your pockets – it makes your shoulders slouch and ruins

your vocal projection.

Try to stand still – instead of rocking back and forth, try to focus your

nervous energy into the words, delivering them with more intensity and



Don’t look down.


Now that you’re standing up straight, you also want to be sure to recite out

to the audience. Don’t look down at your feet. It helps to pick a point in the

back of the room just slightly over the heads of the audience and look out

to it rather than at the faces in the crowd.


Oscillate while you recite.


While you’re looking out, not down, you’ll also want to turn slightly from

one side of the room to the other to make sure you address everyone in

the room. Think of an oscillating fan that rotates back and forth to cool off

the entire room, or a water sprinkler system that rotates to spread water to

all of the grass.


Don’t qualify or apologize.


If you mess up, don’t apologize, just start the last phrase over and





Messing up a poetry recitation isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind that

people want you to do well – they’re all there to support you and hear

some poetry. The better your performance goes the greater the

audience’s enjoyment, so remember that they want you to succeed and

are happy that you’re reciting a poem for them.











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