Sarah Kay is a New York City poet who has been performing her spoken word poetry since she was fourteen years old. She was a featured poet on HBO’s “Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry Jam” in 2006. She was also the youngest poet to compete in the National Poetry Slam that same year. Kay has continued to share her poetry in venues and classrooms worldwide since. Her notable TED Talk at the 2011 conference rendered two standing ovations and has more than seven million views online. Her first book, B was ranked No. 1 Poetry Book on Amazon and her latest book, No Matter the Wreckage, is also an Amazon Bestseller in American Poetry. Kay works as an impassioned educator leading professional development workshops at conferences such as the IBO, NAIS, ECIS, and AISA.
On overcoming stage fright
In “How To Command an Audience: Tips From a Spoken-Word Poet,” Kay gives her tips about how to beat fear on stage.
Kay believes the best way to beat fear on stage is by becoming aware of your audience.
“The more comfortable I get as a performer – over the years and years and years of practicing and performing over and over again for lots of different audiences – the more present I am able to be in the room,” says Kay. “So, instead of losing myself in performance I actually find my exact location in a very visceral way. So I become increasingly aware of everybody in the audience and what they’re doing.”
Kay feels it is important to draw connections in order to relate to the audience. She tries to thank the audience for their time commitment to her on stage by truly acknowledging their presence.
On relating to your audience
“I try to look for opportunities to communicate that I am in the same room that they’re in,” says Kay. “It’s a way of acknowledging that they’ve taken the time to be in this space with you and you want them to know that you’re aware of that.”
“Something that I think I will never get over is the fact that it is a genuine gift when people are willing to sit in an audience and give you their time and attention and breath,” says Kay. “And a big part of what I want to do when I’m on stage is find a way to acknowledge those people that have come and are here in this space and create an environment that acknowledges that and also rewards them for that.”
Kay says content that draws no connection to the present audience falls flat.
“I think when people are delivering content and they’re focused only on themselves, their delivery, what they’ve practiced, what they’ve rehearsed, [or] what they’ve done to the mirror and they’re not aware of the room. Oftentimes, they’re performing in a vacuum and other people can tell,” says Kay. “People in the audience are like this isn’t for me, this is for themselves.”
Kay’s biggest tip for on-stage success: connect with your audience.