Why is Your Audience So Scary?

English: Audience in the main hall of the Mobi...

English: Audience in the main hall of the MobileHCI 2008 conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How uncomfortable are you with your audience?

I have spent a large portion of my life in front of audiences as a musician, as an educator, as a speaker, and, going way back, as an actor (think “the class play in junior high school“…), so I have worked with and observed audiences in a lot of different ways and scenarios. If you read my blog regularly you might think that my concept of an audience versus some other social construct is a little lower than, say, a community.

Not really…

Audiences are truly unique. They differ from visitors, usually because they are truly attracted to something you have to offer. What attracts them can be as individual as each member of the group. In each one of my roles, working with an audience could be based on:
  • Wanting to be entertained
  • Looking for a diversion or something a little out of the ordinary
  • Wanting to learn something of interest and value
  • Wish to be inspired
  • Feeling a little obligated to be there (like my Mom coming to my school play, for example…)
  • Being invited by someone else who with whom they share a commonality of any of the above
  • Curiosity
Wikipedia defines audiences as “a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature (in which they are called “readers”), theatre, music (in which they are called “listeners”), video games (in which they are called “players”), or academics in any medium. Audience members participate in different ways in different kinds of art; some events invite overt audience participation and others allowing only modest clapping and criticism and reception.” There can be varying degrees and types of interaction, some more acceptable in the context of the relationship than others, but at the very least the person upfront (you) should have done some research so you know who you are working with, as well as be paying attention to them during the interaction so you can gauge if they are “with you” or not.

A lot of businesses don’t pay attention to the research piece very closely. We assume the audience is interested in the exact same things (and for the same reasons) that we are. And, the truth is, a couple of them might be. But that is our comfort zone, and the work required to develop the pictures of the other things your audience is interested in is just that…WORK.  Add to that it’s not work we’re comfortable with or good at. Particularly as entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized business owners, we’re so very focused on keeping the business moving forward and paying bills that we neglect this crucial piece of work needed to both connect better with our existing audience and grow new ones.
If you don’t have a real strategy for growing your audience, how can you grow your business?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • The single goal of “Grow My Audience” is not a goal. Why do you want to grow your audience?
  • Start with the audience you have. Do not take them for granted as you begin to explore other audiences, since these are the folks that already listen, engage and buy from you. You can’t afford that.
  • Think about your message…..your unique, human, authentic voice. Especially online this takes time, consistency and a LOT of work. That’s why most companies don’t do it….or think that they already have. Think about it. In all your daily interactions with others, there is a tiny bit of “taking for granted” you may have with each one, but you are also sensitive to when things are different (the other person is quieter than usual, acting weird, looks down or distracted, etc….). The same goes for members of your audience. They are people. A lot of the time they have, as we used to say when I played in the band “other stuff happening.” There is interaction of some kind with most audiences. Pay attention to it.
  • Audiences grow when they share you with their audience. How does that happen? Well, how do you go about sharing or referring someone you know to someone else you know? Online it generally needs these things:
    • “Youtility” – This speaks to the value of what your audience finds. If they don’t get any value from you, they will not pay attention. How to figure that out? Listen to them.
    • Message (again) – Visualize this: You’re speaking to a hall full of people. You lay out the core of your message. Do they (A) nod and check their phones, or (B) stand up, cheer and start stomping around? If the answer is not B, then there’s no hope they’ll share you with their audiences.
    • Consistency – People LOVE to be able to count on things. It’s one of the reasons that McDonald’s is so popular (go to one almost anywhere on the planet and you can probably name off more than 75% of the menu…). Show your love by always showing up….publish regularly, post frequently, extend and deepen themes in your conversations and work, and be yourself.
    • Generosity (Givers’ Gain) – Want to really make an impact? Help somebody out with no strings attached. Be genuinely nice and helpful and they will start talking. Besides, why wouldn’t you want to help your audience? They are your audience.
    • Exploration – Your thoughts, business and the world around us change constantly. The same item or two, hammered on forever, will kill even the audience you have. Don’t be afraid to explore new and extended territories with your audience. Creativity demonstrated this way is very human, and may even expose a whole new audience or business to you that you never saw coming.
So how long has it been since you sat down and did some of this work? Is it time for you to get some help? Extra eyes and a different perspective have the potential to uncover these folks, grow your business and deepen your appreciation for the diverse nature of these human beings who comprise your audience.

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