How to Record a Poem Like a Pro

In these digital days, you might be sharing your poems online more than ever before. Here are some tips to make your videos look sleek and professional.

A couple of notes before we start – we’re using the word ‘camera’ as a catch-all term in this feature, but we know that you’ll probably be recording on your phone. The tips here are for video recordings, but remember, if you want to put your poems out there but you don’t want to show your face, you can audio-record your reading and, when editing, show a relevant (copyright-free) photo or a video of something else. You might even be interested in making a film poem

Intros & outros

Will you give an introduction to your poem, like you would on stage? Will you say the title of the poem, and your name (“Hi, I’m the Flip Flop Poet and this is my poem ‘Beachtime Blues’”), or will you go straight into it? Make these decisions before you start recording.

If you want to give an introduction about what inspired the poem, or if you need to give any context about any specific terms, write down some notes about what you’re going to say – but, if you can, try to avoid reading these straight off the page. It’s always more engaging to hear you tell us about a poem spontaneously. And make it short! Don’t over-explain or worry that people won’t ‘get’ your poem – the listener has a responsibility to do some thinking too. Plus, nobody wants an intro that’s longer than the poem itself. Here’s an example of a video with a good length of intro – it’s Natalie Linh Bolderston reading her National Poetry Competition prize-winning poem ‘Middle Name with Diacritics’:

At the end of the video, will you say thank you or just turn the camera off? Whatever you choose to do, leave at least two full seconds – a whole breath – between your final word and reaching to turn your camera off. This might feel awkward but, just like in a real-life poetry gig, the audience will want to sit with the poem – not see you instantly reaching for the camera. Spend this time looking at the camera if that feels appropriate. 

Note: if you’re recording a poem as a submission to a competition, it’s probably best to skip the intros and outros unless otherwise specified in the entry requirements. Get straight to the poem!

Preparation and setting up

  • Practise beforehand! Try different styles of reading – go really fast in one take, and really slow in another. Emphasise different words. What happens if you pause briefly at the end of every line? What happens if you don’t pause at the end of any line?
  • Watch some good examples beforehand. We have lots of recordings of young poets reading their poems on our YouTube channel.
  • Dress as if you were going to read a poem on stage – wear something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Avoid wearing pyjamas or anything too revealing.
  • Record in a quiet, small-ish room. Avoid recording in your bathroom, on your bed, or outside. Don’t have anything in the background which reveals too much (e.g. something with your school/university name on it) or that is distracting for the viewer (e.g. a giant poster of Matt Smith).
  • Use as many lights as you can, including natural light. No matter the quality of your camera, the video quality will dramatically improve if you just add a bit more light! Check how you look on camera before you start, so you can see if you’re bright pink or shrouded in darkness.
  • Prop your camera up and frame yourself so your whole head and shoulders are visible. Avoid holding the camera/phone while you film.
  • Make sure nothing is covering the microphone.
  • Especially if you’re using a fancy camera like a DSLR, check the settings – make sure you’re in focus. And get some spare batteries!
  • Take a few deep breaths before you start. Here are a few warm-up exercises for your vocal chords.

(Content warning: death, grief and cancer)

In the recording:

  • Go more slowly than you think you need to.
  • If you are reading your poem from a page/screen, look up occasionally and into the camera. This small gesture really helps to create connection with the viewer, though it might feel strange in the moment.
  • Watch yourself back. This is a great chance to observe and improve your performance skills! Try to imagine that you’re hearing this poem for the first time. Is every word clear and audible? Does the emphasis fall in the right place? Re-record as many times as it takes to get it right.
  • Make sure you’re totally happy with the recording before you upload it. Remember – this will come up when anyone Googles your name. Are you happy with what you’re putting out into the world?

Uploading:

  • If you can, it’s always a good idea to add subtitles. You might even be able to paste the whole poem in and let their clever AI robots figure it out (as on YouTube).
  • Always be careful about what you’re putting out onto the internet. If you are sharing something publicly, make sure you are in control and you can take it down if you need to. Try not to share too much about yourself. You can read our tips on staying safe online here, and Childline’s advice here.
  • Remember that uploading something publicly counts as publication, which means that this poem may be ineligible for some competitions in the future. If you want to avoid this, you could publish a video on YouTube as ‘unlisted’: YouTube will then give you a link to share privately with your friends and family but it won’t appear when people search for it. Or you could make your social media accounts totally private, so only your friends can see what you publish there.

Film poems

Film poems are more than video recordings of performances. They’re short films that are inspired by poems, with the poem read over the top. Sometimes music or background noise is added for effect. You can be really creative with these. Here are some examples:

(Content warning: suicide, violence, murder)

Have you been sharing your poems online more than usual? What problems have you encountered, and how did you fix them? Share your top tips in the comments below!

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