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.