How to Open Mic

Drew Davis

Drew Davis

So, you’re an aspiring storytelling or comedian, or you lost a bet, or you have a sadistic desire to lean into the edge of discomfort, or you listened to a podcast that told you that you should do any of the above, and you’re ready to rock up to an open mic and CRUSH.

Word. I dig. I see you and I applaud your willingness to get up and let it all hang out.

I had my first open mic experience about a year ago–I look at it as losing my public speaking virginity. That’s a terrible analogy but I’m the one writing and you’re still reading so I guess we’re both fine with it.

There are a few things that I wish I had known about the open mic world before I showed up, and I’m sharing those things such that YOU might be better prepared.

They are not free.

Even if it says it’s free, it’s not really free. The vast majority of open mics ask that you buy a drink or two, or tip as if you had, in exchange for the venue sharing their space with you. And you have to invest your time to get there. And it is generally looked down upon to do your thing and then immediately bolt. So, plan on being there for a while, and plunking down a bit of dough.

It’s more of an audience-like shape rather than a true audience

Open mic audiences, often, are comprised mainly of people who are also there to perform. On the one hand, that means that they are rooting for you because they, too, are feeling the butterflies of anxiety fluttering in their stomachs. But it also means that it can be a distracted group. I remember getting up to tell my story and seeing more than half of the crowd blatantly staring at their phones or notes to get ready for their five minutes of fame. That doesn’t make them bad people, but it does mean that it’s a weird mix of warm and cold audiences at the same time. Let’s call it milquetoast because I can never quite find a good opportunity to use that word.

Even though it’s practice, your professionalism counts

A rookie mistake made by many is getting up to the microphone and immediately telling the audience to reduce their expectations, either directly or indirectly. Directly looks like this: “I just wrote this today and it might suck, but here we go.” Indirectly looks like this: “I just want you to know that I’m super nervous and I might forget parts but here we go.” In either case, you’re trying to soften the blow for the audience. All that you are actually doing is giving the audience permission to ignore you. If you tell them you might suck, it is easy to leap to the conclusion that you do, in fact, suck before you’ve said a word. Get up there and act as if they all paid to be there and you know what you’re doing. Good, bad, or otherwise, you will get a more accurate representation of what people think of your stuff.

Take notes

Per the above, it is easy to show up to an open mic and to get fixated on just doing your set/story and then drinking to forget it immediately. Don’t do that! An open mic is an amazing petri dish (I know Coronavirus is bad–relax) of people who are experimenting to find out what the audience likes. If a joke totally kills, or you really like a technique that someone uses, or, hell, you just think someone is really talented, take note! This is an opportunity to get a free education for a few hours in addition to the chance to overcome your fears of public speaking. So do both.


I know this may sound weird, but be very proactive in introducing yourself. It helps to break the ice in a stuffy room and helps to make you a recognized face within the community. The more that you connect with others, the more that you can see familiar faces in the audience and have a little bit of home-court advantage working in your favor. If you make someone feel warm and fuzzy because you introduced yourself and noted that you loved his nose ring, you might get a laugh a little more easily, or you might get a more honest piece of feedback when you’re done. It is net positive. All ways.

So, there you have it. You’re ready to conquer the final frontier of stage fright. Talking about nothing to a room full of people you don’t know. It doesn’t get more awkward than that. But that’s why its so fun. So saddle up, take these words to heart, and get out there!!

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