Trust and Attention

How you can earn the trust and attention of your audience before they arrive at your show, and why you should care.

I often watch performers approach new projects in two seperate stages.

1. They lock themselves away to create a new show.
2. Emerge with the new show and start building an audience who wants to see it.

These things can happen in parallel rather than in sequence, by inviting your fans to be enrolled in the purpose of the show as you’re creating it.

Ask yourself the questions: Why am I creating this? Who and what is it for?

In her book “Art Thinking”, Amy Whitaker defines “a work of art (as) something new in the world that changes the world to allow itself to exist”.

How is your creative project new, and how do you want it to change the world? Are you bringing humour and joy to an audience that is tired and strung out from overwhelm? Are you encouraging your audience to see mental illness from a different perspective? The art you’re creating matters. If it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t be doing it.

Show and tell your fans what you believe in. This offers them more context to understand what you do and also allows them the opportunity to align to the values you share.

When you demonstrate why the work matters to you, you give others the chance to decide whether it matters to them. Once the audience decides that your work matters to them, they’ll show you a new level of allegiance and support. The idea that “people like us do things like this” is a very strong social driver and we spend money, invest time and become advocates for artists and causes that reinforce our perception of who we are.

Once you’ve demonstrated that you’re worthy of your audience’s interest, how do you develop their trust and engage their attention?

Show up. Consistently.

Demonstrate that you’re committed to this work. Show up day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year.
Communicate with your audience regularly, not just when you’ve got something you want to promote or sell. One of the most effective ways to do this is through an email list. Let people know when they subscribe to your list how often they will hear from you…then stick to your word.
Great examples of this are Seth Godin (who publishes a blog post every day), Austin Kleon and Tobias van Schneider (who send emails once a week). I look forward to updates from these people and would miss them if they stopped sharing their work. How can you make your work something that people look forward to receiving and engaging with?

Be vulnerable.

Design opportunities for you and your audience to get to know each other. Over time, your audience comes back (to your site, your email, your show) to see you more than the work itself. Creating connections between people is one of the great gifts of art.

Engaging in art is an emotional decision more than a logical one. Your audience wants to be entertained – they yearn to feel and connect. They go to a live performance because it’s a shared experience. It’s an event you can take your partner to, or invite friends to join you and talk about it afterwards. You discuss what you’ve seen, heard and felt right after the show and reminisce about it later.

Acknowledge your audience and their patronage. Provide opportunities for them to show their support. There will be fans who want to do more to help and need you to show them how.

Remember “people like us do things like this” and

  • invite fans to share your emails or posts with their friends and colleagues.
  • ask for their feedback on something you’ve shared
  • offer fans an opportunity to share their own stories
  • don’t be shy about making direct asks of your audience (“I need your support with this”)
  • leverage the network (“I’m looking to hire a Festival Assistant.” “Are there any accountants in my audience?” “Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?”)

Earning the trust and attention of your audience doesn’t only help with ticket sales. It can shape and affect the audience’s experience of your show.

  • By pulling back the curtain on the creative process you can ‘open a loop’ and engage the audience’s curiosity in a way that can only be resolved by seeing the performance
  • Having knowledge of how the work came to be created offers a much stronger connection with your art when we get to experience it in its final form
  • You manage the audience’s expectations. As an artist you’ll want to experiment with something brand new from time to time. If you’re tackling a new subject or changing your style of performance you can offer your fans a heads up and avoid blind-siding them with something that doesn’t match their expectations

If this has piqued your interest, I highly recommend Show Your Work by Austin Kleon as great follow up reading.

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