It’s important in life to make sure people like you. Well, not really – it doesn’t matter if people hate you, so long as you’re being yourself and being a good person.

Do you think a column could possibly start more foolishly? It’s a really annoying first impression. And that’s what I want to talk about.

Open readers at poetry readings/spoken word nights and the bad first impressions that can be made.

A wise woman told me when I started out how I could manage the open reading situation in such a way that I would eventually become the feature reader. Having now featured dozens of times in dozens of places, I guess she was right. But what if she had reversed her advice? And she’d wanted to let me know the best way to ensure I remained an open reader and never featured anywhere except my bedroom in front of the mirror?

This is what she’d have said.

First, Paul, take more time to introduce your poems than actually performing or reading them. Ensure you tell the audience exactly how you wrote the poem and why it is important. Stop in the middle of your introduction to discuss an unrelated political situation. Do anything but actually perform or read your work. If you really want to keep them spellbound, explain also that you are a genius and how lucky they are to be in your presence. Then, when you actually start, drop papers everywhere and/or forget your lines and have to start again. And again.

Next, ensure you are really loud. Also, to further charm your audience, ensure the content of your work doesn’t call for volume. That your words about, for example, your cat’s unwillingness to move when you asked it to warrants an explosion of volume so loud that audience members on their way home confidently drive over every black cat in their paths knowing that they couldn’t possibly receive any more bad luck tonight than they have already experienced at the reading.

If that doesn’t work, make sure your poem is on a worthy topic. This will shield your audience from your poem’s and/or performance’s mediocrity. Because, as we all know, a poem on a worthy political or social topic has to be good just because it is on a worthy political or social topic.

Now that everything is going well, ensure you perform at least one work that has hip hop or rap influences. This will guarantee you are entertaining. It’s got rhythm. And a beat. How could it be so boring that it makes them start snoring?

It’s vital if you’re a woman to mention either menstruation (how else is the audience going to know you’re a woman?) or some guy who wanted to have sex with you, but he was a creep/loser and, of course, you were too good for him. If you’re a man, it’s vital you pined after a woman who didn’t want you, or you are cool about women not wanting you. Or you do hip hop. Or something politically and/or socially minded that echoes the previous female or male act, and you can say, Like he or she said, yeah, wow, we’re all thinking the same tonight, hey, isn’t this amazing, yeah?

If you are gay, lesbian, transgendered, etc. then make that the only reason why you’ve ever written a poem and definitely the only reason why you are performing it. This will ensure the audience puts you in a box that you’ll never get out of.

Finally, don’t forget to run over the time set for open readings at the venue. This will ensure your audience hates you, wants you to get off, and will guarantee that the evening’s host puts a little mark in his or her black or white book that says, “Never let this person feature. They got no respect!”

And you’ll be back in front of the mirror. Until the next open reading.

Paul Mitchell is a poet, fiction writer and journalist. His latest book is Standard Variation, a poetry collection available from Walleah Press. He is completing a PhD in English at La Trobe University.