The first time you step up to speak a poem or a story, especially a vulnerable or personal one, can be one of the scariest things in the world. Baring your heart and soul to strangers, friends and possibly even family... It can seem akin to ripping open your chest and baring the beating of your heart to others for them to scrutinise every pulse and skip it makes. Your palms may sweat, your legs may begin to shake uncontrollably and you may even try
to convince yourself out of doing it... and that's before you've even stepped out your front door!
However, if nurtured well, your first time sharing your poetry or Spoken Word can be an incredibly empowering and enlivening experience leaving you feeling fulfilled and hungry for more. Here at Mother Tongue we have seen hundreds of women step up and speak for the first time (as well, of course, as having our own experiences) so we have prepared these handy 5 steps to help YOU when you are facing the massive leap of sharing your work for the first time.
1- Read your piece to yourself
Knowing your poem well is a great place to start. It gives you confidence and takes away the stress of relying on the page. Its great to have your poem written out for a prompt but remember, these words came from you. They live in your bones. Speaking your poem out loud BEFORE you get up to share it means that you get more used to the taste of these words. It can be startling hearing your voice say such depth out loud. Allow yourself the gift of that first time being in a safe place with the person who knows you best, you.
2 - Stop reading your piece to yourself
I know, it's a paradox. I say one thing and now I say the other. But, like all things, there is only so much you can repeat a thing before medicine becomes poison. There is a difference between being comfortable with your words and becoming numb to them. So read it just enough to feel comfortable with them... then stop. Close your book... shut your laptop and walk away. Take a big breath and do something else.
3- Surround yourself with what makes you feel strong
When you are preparing to share your words for the first time, surround yourself with what ever makes you feel strong. That could be as simple as going for a quiet walk before hand, having a slow and gentle time, taking a bath or wearing clothes which you feel good in, or it could mean wrapping yourself in music which fills your soul, dancing, or spending time with people who remind you of how much you deserve your place in this world.
4- Find an audience which deserves your vulnerability
It's great to share your vulnerability and inner passion however ensuring you have the right audience, especially for the first time, is essential to you having a safe experience.
Brene Brown (leading researcher in Vulnerability and Shame) lays out in this video the types of people who really don't deserve your vulnerability and why. Personally I would say choose an audience which can be receptive and focused which you share. For example sharing a very vulnerable poem for the first time in a rowdy pub open mice while people are talking, laughing and ordering drinks may actually leave you feeling raw and unheard. Search out audiences and spaces which are prepared to hold silence and attentiveness while performers share and a host which knows how to encourage that respect. At Mother Tongue, for example, we hold an alcohol free space with a no-talking policy during performances with an enthusiastic applause after.
5- Immerse yourself in others work.
Finally, it's so easy to spend the hours before you get up and share caught up in your own inner dialogue of what may happen. It can become an act of speculation and living in the future which is food for anxiety. If you are at an open mic or event then allow yourself to immerse yourself in the other performers pieces. Take a moment to check yourself if you are listening more to your inner story than what is happening around you and allow yourself to focus on what OTHERS are sharing. After all they are all facing the same fears as you and your attentive face in the crowd could be JUST what they need to help them step into their courage. Allowing yourself to stop speculation (because the truth is you just don't know what will happen) and become immersed in someone elses words for a moment will drop you into the present moment and help keep your heart and mind clear for when you do step up and share.
I hope these 5 little steps help you in those pre-performance anxiety moments and that you feel held and nurtured in your first time performing. If you are looking for a safe and encouraging place to share, are based in Melbourne and identify as a Woman then check out Mother Tongue - Women Speak. It's a monthly event designed to create a space for women to inspire and be inspired. With 8 open mic spaces and two feature artists it could be the PERFECT place for your first time.
Mother Tongue - Your Voice - Blog written by Fleassy Malay. Photography by John Englezos https://www.facebook.com/johnephotography (photo 1 - Fleassy Malay, photo 2 - Mother Tongue alter, photo 3 - Mother Tongue captive audience)