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Talk About Somebody Beside Yourself

One of the social media guidelines for organizations that is frequently mentioned is to avoid having every post you make promote your products/events. The idea is that you should present a variety of topics that might be of interest and educational to whatever demographic follows you. People quickly become disillusioned by posts that talk only about yourself or try to sell them something.

It’s a lot like dating, too.

I have started to believe that is a good practice to embrace when you are asked to make speeches and presentations about your arts organization as well. Even though you are asked to talk about yourself, the audience may enjoy themselves more if you expand the scope a little.

Over the last year I have been asked to speak to a number of groups and each time my general approach is to talk about how my organization fits into the greater “arts ecology” of the community.

The simple fact is, no one arts organization usually has the resources to meet the needs of everyone in the community. A vibrant arts environment requires a wide variety of groups representing various aspects of their disciplines. Performing arts organizations may not have a season that runs year round. A visual arts organization probably isn’t equipped to provide classes in performing arts. A children’s theater may not be able to provide adults with the experiences they crave.

When I have been talking to groups, I have been pointing out all the opportunities that exist in the community in contexts my organization can’t serve well. My goal is to raise awareness and pride in the resources the community has to offer.

One thing we know from research is that even if people never avail themselves of amenities like the opera, they value living in a community where an opera exists. That attitude helps communities attract new businesses and helps businesses attract quality employees. (Granted that is of little consolation to the opera performing to empty seats.)

It doesn’t take much effort to mention other arts organizations you frequent and why you like attending. (Especially if they are comping you in to events.) I often mention my lack of knowledge about visual arts and how I enjoy the informality of the local museum which allows me to ask questions without feeling like I will be judged for my ignorance.

Within this general theme, I also tell funny stories and have been known to recite some poetry as well. I get many compliments on my talks and invitations to speak at other places. Certainly, a good deal of this success can be attributed to my gradually improving skill at public speaking.

But consider, when people come thinking they are going to hear someone talk about the upcoming season of performances and leave having discovered there is more going on in their community than they knew, the experience has exceeded their expectations. My brochure can tell them what is coming up over the next year, but only I can make them leave excited and proud about living here.

I am sure many of you live in places where you view other organizations as rivals for audience and donors. You don’t necessarily have to mention them, but I suspect that if you get into the practice of talking about how exciting it is to live in a place that has an organization like Company A, you will start to get much better at identifying and communicating about the niche you fill in the community. (And perhaps in the process you will discover a niche you should be filling instead.)

Company A may not even be the organization you view as a rival. It may be an organization of a different discipline you feel complements the work you do, or vice versa.

Who knows, in the process of talking about your local arts ecology, someone (including yourself), may get so excited and proud about the environment that partnerships, alliances, sponsorships and better may result.

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Follow My Curious Example

Fast Company had a quick piece on the habits of curious people. I didn’t get past the second sentence, “Answers are more valued than inquisitive thought, and curiosity is trained out of us,” before I started wondering how arts organizations could engender more curiosity in potential program participants.

Moving from the statement that “curiosity is trained out of us”, it is easy to immediately blame the problem of declining audiences on the education system for valuing correct answers over inquiry and exploration. In a sense though that is just a reflection of society as a whole where having the wrong opinion on social or political issues can see you pilloried in your community or on social media.

Add to that the rising cost of attending performances and it becomes a little easier to understand why people may be averse to new experiences without some assurances that they will enjoy themselves and not be challenged too much.

One of the lines from the article that follows about “…the average teacher, who peppers kids with 291 questions a day and waits an average of one second for a reply,” reminded me of my teacher education classes where we were counseled not to be afraid of the silence between asking a question and getting an answer.

I have often mentioned that there are no special techniques or theater games that will make someone more creative. The techniques and games are useless in themselves, it is the act of taking the time apart to engage in “non-productive” activities that has value.

That time might be spent playing games, sitting quietly or contemplating how the segments of your sidewalk were formed to leave space for a tree. The leaves, bark or texture of concrete might give you insight into how to design a new type of fabric—or result in nothing at all (at least today).

But people see value in acquiring these skills for their workplace. How do you inspire people to want to become more curious? As they say, you can’t make a person change, they have to want it for themselves.

I am not sure there is a clear way of doing so other than modeling the practice for others.

Ironically, it may best be accomplished by replacing silence with silence.

Yeah, that is a little glib, but what I mean is replace the absence of an opportunity to ask questions and explore with the silence that follows asking a question.

Some of the best Q&A sessions I have experienced with an artist are when they ask: what did you think; what questions do you have; what did this make you feel? And then they waited, unafraid of the silence that might follow. Generally what happens is that after a few tentative questions, people decide it is okay to raise their hands and you end the session with unanswered questions.

But the artist or facilitator or tour guide has to be skilled at handling these interactions. A way of modeling curious behavior is to use some of the suggestions in the FastCompany piece – asking audience members/participants questions about what they think, how they felt, why they had a reaction, and encouraging them to turn those questions back on the facilitators. When the facilitators answer that they don’t know and lead the participants to hypothesize, they serve as a good example of curious behavior.

You may be thinking, we do Q&As and tours of our facility all the time, it isn’t really helping matters.

A couple questions for you though–how well do you promote these opportunities? As much as you promote your shows?

I’m sure like me, you have had people come up and say, I have lived here all my life and this is the first time I have been in this amazing building. Or this is the first time I have been in a performing arts center/museum, etc in my life.

Now with all the advertising and marketing of shows you do, you know you have been unsuccessful at getting a lot of people in your community in your doors.

Just think then, if you aren’t pushing the Q&As, lectures, tours, workshops, classes, as hard as you do your central activities, there are probably people who regularly attend your events who probably aren’t aware these activities are available.

Just last year I had someone who attended a Q&A who was amazed by the very concept of being able to have a Q&A with performers. Not with those particular performers, with the fact that the opportunity even existed. I took it for granted people knew arts organizations did this sort of thing from time to time when the chance presented itself, but that was a mistaken assumption.

As I sit here writing this post, I thought about the board meeting we are having on stage in two weeks. My guess is that 3/4 of the board members probably haven’t been backstage even after years of service on the board and I should probably have staff on hand to help give tours and stimulate their curiosity.

In some respects, encouraging people to be curious can be as easy as letting them into the less public areas of your building and allowing them to touch an old piece of scenery you walk by everyday to get to the microwave.

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The Kids Ain’t Given Up On Facebook Yet

Citing a Pew Research Study about teen use of social media and technology, Quartz drew attention to a finding that wealthier kids like Instagram while less affluent kids like Facebook.

And while there has been intermittent hysteria over the past few years about Facebook becoming uncool, the Pew Center also reported that 71% of teens continue to use it—even as the same percentage say they use more than one platform.

Here’s where wealth comes into play, according to Pew:

The survey data reveals a distinct pattern in social media use by socio-economic status. Teens from less well-off households (those earning less than $50,000) are more likely than others to say they use Facebook the most: 49% of these teens say they use it most often, compared with 37% of teens from somewhat wealthier families (those earning $50,000 or more).

My first thought upon reading the Quartz article was that using a targetted boosted post on Facebook might be an effective way to reach lower income, underserved kids in order to make them aware of free/low cost performances, workshops, summer camps, scholarships, etc.

Looking at the Pew Research study findings provides some greater insights about the devices and social media sites on which teens frequently interact.

…African-American teens are the most likely of any group of teens to have a smartphone, with 85% having access to one, compared with 71% of both white and Hispanic teens. These phones and other mobile devices have become a primary driver of teen internet use: Fully 91% of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally. Among these “mobile teens,” 94% go online daily or more often…

African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens. Among African-American teens, 34% report going online “almost constantly” as do 32% of Hispanic teens, while 19% of white teens go online that often.

Income and race also often determine whether someone has access to a desktop or tablet computer. In any case, it seems increasingly important to make sure your website design is mobile friendly (h/t Drew McManus) if you want teens to have positive interactions with it as that is increasingly the platform of choice.

Gender also plays a role with females having a large representation on visual social media like Instagram, Pintrest, Snapchat, Tumblr and males spending a lot of time playing games on their phones, computers or consoles.

As always,  knowing the good places to reach a demographic is easier than knowing how best to interact with the group.

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Info You Can Use: Can You Talk About Your Arts Org’s Secret Sauce In Less Than Two Slides?

A little while ago Entrepreneur website had an infographic Guy Kawasaki created of the “The Only 10 Slides Needed When Pitching Your Business.”

I bookmarked the article because even though most non-profits don’t pitch investors the way a Silicon Valley company might, they still need to convince various constituencies to support them and doing so in a simple and effective manner can be important.

Or in other words–how to do a presentation without using a massive Powerpoint presentation. Kawasaki’s infographic maps out the order in which 10 slides (15 maximum) should be presented.

At first glance, you may not think every slide is applicable, but just think about the grant applications you make. How many of them ask about your business model, strategic planning, problem you are addressing, promotional plans, evaluation method, list of board and staff members and justify why you receive funding based on past successes? All of that is in the infographic by other names.

If you are talking to potential audience members or volunteers, you can eliminate some of these slides. The question still remains, can you go out into the community and talk about the programming and opportunities you offer in a simplified and interesting way, or are you going to have a slide for each of your events?

The slides can be metaphorical by the way. This is more about tight organization of thoughts than the availability and use of a projector and screen at a presentation. Trying to include too much content in your presentation is akin to trying to cram as many images from your upcoming season in one slide in order to limit it to 10 total. It reduces the effectiveness of the whole.

Right at the top of the infographic is says, the low number forces you to focus on the absolute essentials…the more slides you need, the less compelling your idea.

Kawasaki’s chart has one slide for the Value Proposition – “Explain the Value of the Pain You Alleviate or the Value of the Pleasure You Provide,” and one slide for the Underlying Magic – “Describe the technology, secret sauce or magic behind your product…”

These are the bread and butter areas of the arts. Arts organizations are all about the pleasurable experience and magic. But can you make that case in just a couple slides, even if you were allowed a total of four slides between these two areas?

Can you do it a way that is focused on the pleasure the audience/participant will receive? Nobody buys secret sauce that only the cook thinks tastes good. People have to know they will enjoy the secret sauce as well.

Obviously, this practice is transferable to other areas of the organization, especially marketing. Can you communicate the essence of what your event is in a poster, broadcast or print ad, social media post, email blast, etc? Can you make the case for donating in a brief curtain speech or solicitation letter? Can you give a gallery tour/play talk/concert lecture that makes people want to come back and learn more or do their own research?

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