Spoken Word Toolkit: Have students use this list of things to keep in mind as they rehearse and perform spoken word poetry.
Memorize your text. Like learning to dance, play a sport, or sing your favorite song, it helps to memorize the movements, the next steps, and the next lyrics. This will help you build more confidence and give you room to play with how you perform your piece when you don’t have to filter it from page to brain to voice. Tune in and visualize images when you memorize. Encode these images in your mind to draw from when you speak.
Volume. Did the audience hear what you said? Speak loudly enough for someone in the back of the room to hear you clearly. Speak directly into the microphone. Adjust your volume to change tone, mood, or intensity of the piece.
Speed. Alternating between different speeds can create added dimensions to your work. When and why would you want to adjust the speed? What could this suggest?
Pause. Dramatic pauses can really pull in the audience, to help them re-focus and ache to know what’s coming next. It also helps you breathe and re-centre yourself if you tend to get stage fright.
Breathe. Breathing is essential to performance. Without breaths, someone better call the paramedics to resuscitate you! Work with placing breaths at different moments of your poem. By creating variation in line lengths, this will help you establish set points for breathing.
Articulation. Refers to the time value we assign to each syllable, as well as how we enunciate words. Give definition to all the details of words and how they are spoken in a clear, direct manner. From there, stretch syllables to slow down the line. This will change the inflection (pitch at which we sound out the syllables.)
Emphasis. By simply changing what words you emphasize, you can change the meaning of a piece entirely. Try emphasizing different words in a line: I AM the king of Siam/ I am the KING of Siam/ I am the king of SIAM. (in hip-hop, the emphasis usually falls on the first down beat.)
Exaggeration. Experiment with using more than one of these techniques to exaggerate an idea. Try speaking really loudly and slowly, with a dramatic pause in the middle and then speed it up at the end. Mix it up!
Eye contact. Try not to stare at your new sneakers while you perform. We know they’re awesome, but it’s better to look up at the audience or just above their heads.
Body language and positioning. Slouching isn’t going to sell your poem about ending world hunger. Stand tall, ground your feet shoulder-width apart, and try gesturing with your hands and arms.
Proper hydration, sleep, and preparation. Take care of yourself before you present your work, just like you would before running a marathon!
Rehearse. It is important to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, so you can be confident and perform with ease.
Sources: "Take the Mic: the art of performing slam and spoken word" by Mark Smith, "How to Rap: the art and science of the hip-hop MC" by Paul Edwards.