Tim Jones has a really good post about book launches and poetry readings over on his blog. There's also quite a bit of discussion going on in the comments. I've written a blog-post-length comment about my thoughts on book launches and poetry readings, which I'll include below as well, but it's worth checking out the post and joining the discussion if you're interested in this sort of thing.
Great post Tim! Over the last few years, as I’ve done more launches (both my own and for Seraph Press books) and more readings, I’ve been thinking about both these things quite a bit.
I agree about launches – it’s more important to have your friends, family, work colleagues, people who care about you there than the local literati. It’s nice to have them there too of course, but the best launches I’ve been to/had have been ones that are warm, supportive and enthusiastic.
Pick a venue that will be friendly, and also if it has things for people to look at if they aren’t mingling, all the better! I’ve tended to go for galleries rather than bookshops for my launches – partly out of cost – a Unity launch doesn’t come cheap, because they have to actually pay their staff, while my books-table man (Sean) comes for free. Also, I do the catering – usually with the help of my mum, and other people. I quite enjoy the home-madeness of that.
I like to give the launch goers a discount on the recommended retail price, so they feel like it’s worth buying the book on the night. Sometimes at book launches there are other incentives – at one of Harvey McQueen’s launches everyone who bought the book got a kowhai seedling (which has now grown into quite a shrub).
In terms of readings, I could write a whole post about that, which this comment is fast turning into!
Basically, I think you should try to make it easy for people to listen to you. I usually start with something that I think will grab people – usually something with a bit of humour, and not too long. Then I’ll move on to more serious darker or longer poems. Quite often I’ll bring it back up again at the end. Readings, like books, have a kind of a rhythm.
I’m also not of the monotone reading school – that can work for some people, but I mostly find it boring and hard to listen to. I try to vary my tone and speed and loudness (as appropriate:)).
And I agree with Harvey’s comments about talking to audience. I saw musician Amanda Palmer perform earlier this year, and she was amazing. What was so good about her though wasn’t just that I enjoyed her music, it was that she connected with the audience. She wasn’t just performing to a bunch of people she’d rather ignore, as many people do, she was trying to engage with this bunch of people. As a shy person, that can be quite hard, but I think it’s rewarding for everyone.