When open mics are Your Thing, you go to a lot of open mics. You see different formats, different venues, different house rules. And you see how each host welcomes people in, tees up the rules, manages the list, introduces performers, and does all the other things they do.

In fact, after hitting events in 21 states (and the District of Columbia) and ~30 cities, my conclusion is that the host is the most important element of any open mic.

  • A good host can set up both quivering novice and slam champion for success. A bad host makes it all about him/herself.
  • A good host keeps the energy going between performances. A bad host can make things so awkward that even regulars forget to say their own names.
  • A good host can make up for a less than ideal venue, a smaller-than-hoped-for crowd, a thin list, a passing train, a fistfight by the billiards tables in the back, and any of the thousand thousand weird things that can happen when you open the doors of a coffee shop/bar/pizza joint/library/bookstore/art gallery and offer a microphone to strangers.

Related: 12 Tips for Open Mic Hosts: How to Be Flexible, Fair, and Fluid

Open Mic Hosting Secrets from People Who Know

To learn more about what it means, exactly, to be a good host, a smart poet (and open mic organizer) would talk to a few. And since I happen to know a handful with years of experience running incredible events at a variety of venues, well…

If nothing else, it seemed like a great way to reconnect with a few of the best hosts I’ve seen on my quest so far.

I hit up hosts who do (or did) run events in four states, and one who hosted a Raleigh open mic back in the ’80s that will be top of my list when open mic time travel becomes a thing.

In order, they are:

I prevailed on each to cover the basics, etiquette peeves, host tricks, and wish lists. Some shared videos and poems, and all of them offered some great insights for the practicing or aspiring open mic hosts among us.

So if you’re interested in starting an open mic in your area and you’d like a couple pro tips, pick one above and lean in, friends.

Because things got interesting…