Tricks for the Perfect Open and Close

The act of opening and closing a Poetry/Prose book can be routine. It can be forgettable. Or, it can be used to establish professionalism and command attention. Rules of a round might dictate all performers are treated with respect, and thus people will be silent. Rules do not dictate though that an audience listen. Readers must own the room, audience and judge included, and that authority begins once a competitor leaves their chair.

The Approach

Speakers might not always be aware of the order in which they will be performing, but that does not grant an excuse for being unprepared. Be vigilant. Always. When another performer has finished their piece, and is walking back to their seat/leaving for another round, stealthily place a finger to the piece’s opening page and grab the book slightly. Do not look overly anxious to perform but be on deck. If called to perform, quietly get up and confidently walk to the front of the room. When effectively done, this little maneuver allows for a reader to smoothly approach the front to face the audience. No fumbling to find the appropriate page before getting up; no wasting anyone’s time. This tiny slickness is one part in creating a good impression.

Once standing before the audience be sure to wait for the judge to be ready. Sometimes a judge will call a performer before actually being done writing comments (or they will think of a critique after calling upon someone). Do not look annoyed. Do not space out. Remain focused and watch for the judge to signal. A nod, a smile, a prolonged stare (be careful here; what could be interpreted as a judge waiting for the performance might be them thinking about a critique), or even a verbal command all qualify as a signal to perform. Once the go-ahead is given, wait a couple of seconds to stare at the audience and present the Prose/Poetry book. This is not a blank stare but one of focus and attention. Use the eyes to connect with the crowd. Also, these few seconds gives a reader time to relax, hone in on the piece, and get mentally involved to create a better performance.

The Open and Close

Opening and closing a Prose/Poetry binder is easy. It is still a move that must be practiced to become polished, but it is simple. When opening the binder a finger should always mark the page being turned to. Hold the binder in front of the body, book parallel to the body. As the left hand holding the spine of the book tilts to a 45 degree angle (towards the audience), take the right hand marking the opening page and elegantly sweep the cover (and any pages that must be turned) open. After the book as been opened, smoothly move the binder from being held directly in front of the body to the left--the standard binder holding position.

Closing the book is almost the exact opposite. If transitioning into the introduction, ALWAYS be certain to keep a finger marked at the location the book must re-open. Gracefully move the right hand to the left cover/pages needed to grab in order to close the book. While the cover/pages are being pleasingly brought over to close the binder, position the book to that it is once again parallel and in front of the body. DO NOT begin this slight move until the cover/pages are being turned. Keep the book at this “in attention” position while delivering the introduction. The book can be lowered while walking back into the rows of desks (or out the door in double-entered) at the end of the performance--but never swing the binder or lazily lug it back. Even while exiting the “stage” a performer is being watched. Always maintain a look of professionalism and sophistication.

The Finale

It is the end of the performance. The Prose/Poetry book has been closed. What now? Obviously, walking back to sit/leave is the next progression, but there is an instant of one last final impression. After the book has been closed (and still parallel to the body) refrain from walking away instantly. Just like the piece’s opening, take a few seconds. Gaze at the audience with a lasting, powerful look that either reflects the piece's final tone OR simply confidence of the performance--but not too strong of a look that appears unnatural. If heading to another round, and with no need to go back to the desk, politely ask for permission to leave because of being double-entered. Wait for an okay. Then go. Competitors can offer a polite “good luck” while exiting the room. If heading back to the desk, QUIETLY walk back and sit (or grab belongings and THEN ask for permission to leave due to double-entry and say "good luck" after being given the okay). There is no reason at any time to offer “thanks” to the audience or judge. If the urge to do something before walking back to sit needs to be addressed, a small smile or slight nod is okay. Nothing more. This is a performance for competition. Everyone is there for the same purpose--to perform and win. “Thanks” reeks of sucking-up, no matter how unintended.

It is amazing how audience perspective of a competitor can be altered within seconds. The combined time required from walking to and from the performance space, and opening and closing the book, is negligible. This is thirty seconds. Max. Yet in that time evaluations are made. Even how nicely a binder is presented while being held, opened, and closed matters. A competitor’s performance is measured during the entire round. These small details might seem meaningless, but the overall image of professionalism and polish projected in all areas of competition is what advances an average reader to being an exquisite one.