The ethics of poetry readings are complex. And I call them "poetry" readings even though people read aloud in all genres--but there's something poetic about the way one has to perform their verbal acrobats on stage, in front of friends and strangers.
Some self-imposed guidelines:
Read loud and clear.
Go to other people's readings, not just my own.
Read as interesting and funny a piece as I have, even if it's not that funny--it's fun for me and fun for them.
Invite people out for drinks after even if I'm not drinking.
I LOVE reading. It's one of my favorite things to do. I'm sadly going to get pigeon-holed as the Darwin poem reader because I like to read that long poem best. But regardless of what I'm reading, there's something so generous about people giving up Lost or Star Wars or Dinner to come see me read. And, for all the readings of my friends I've missed, I'm sorry for all the dumb reasons.
Speaking of reading for friends and family--I love reading in front of people who are kind and know my work and who love me no matter what. However, reading in Evergreen in front of 45 strangers was exhilarating. I was nervous but SO pleased that the audience was receptive and interested and had enthusiastic, and relevant, questions to ask. After that reading, even though it was in front of students who may be more generous than other audiences, I decided that reading really is the truest venue for delivering one's work. Publishing is so private. Who knows who reads what you wrote, even if it's in a great magazine?
The only time your reader is more invested is in a workshop environment. And that's fun but not nearly as much a presentation.