Hi! Coooeeee…. Yep, you lot at the back, hellooooo!
Can you keep it down a bit please?
I’ve got some stuff to say and you’re kind of killing the vibe for everyone else. Thanks ever so.
Have I annoyed you yet?
How about if I seemed disinterested in the experience, your experience, and blathered on while staring at the floor?
That wouldn’t be a great way to begin a working relationship. Can you imagine dictating how clients and prospects should respond to you? And then berating them for reacting in the ‘wrong’ way.
Would you pay to be told off?
Before lockdown, I went to a gig.
I showed up early to watch the support band. Ahhh, live music, Thursday evening, almost the weekend. Life felt pretty good.
After playing a few songs, the singer told us that we were doing it wrong.
“You’re so quiet!” she exclaimed.
It was bizarre, like we’d slipped into a parallel universe where the audience’s reaction (lack of?) was a zoo specimen to be wondered at by musicians.
I’d paid to go to the gig. After a long week, I’d shown up early to make the most of the evening, perhaps discover some new music. But lo! There I was, being told off during what I thought was a chance to chill out.
The rest of the band’s set passed awkwardly after that. A few compliant souls made more of an effort to dance, bless them. It wasn’t really music you could dance to.
All in all, it was pretty uncomfortable.
Expectation vs. reality: getting what you set out for
How might this gap between what the professional musicians wanted and what they got, show up elsewhere? I imagined a chef peering out of the kitchen door. He’d order the waiter over to a table with instructions for customers to show greater appreciation. “More yummy noises please!”
The thing is, the musician’s outburst betrayed a degree of expectation. They anticipated a certain response and didn’t get it.
Why is that?
Because nobody asked for what they made. Nobody asked for them to be there that night.
The same goes for business. No-one asked for the iPod or the humble paperclip. And yet they were brought into being. I doubt anyone asked for your particular brand of accountancy, chartered surveying, or graphic design. When you market you market your business, attend an exhibition, or go to a networking event, you do so with that knowledge. People might ignore your leaflet, walk by your stand, and yawn through your introduction.
So, what did my musician friends miss?
What business can learn from expectant musicians
To be fair, there was nothing wrong with the musicians’ work. The singer had a great voice. The band could clearly play.
However, they gave very little. The vocalist sang with her eyes closed pretty much the whole time. The guitarists strummed while staring at the floor. And the drummer thrashed away without once breaking the fourth wall. As a tableau vivant, they betrayed little in the way of enthusiasm.
And yet they wanted rapture from us?
It struck me that if you want a certain kind of reaction from an audience, you have to put that out. There are very few people who can orchestrate a room, a stadium or a field full of people with a mere twitch of their eyebrows. Debbie Harry, Freddie Mercury, or Jimi Hendrix these guys were not. They needed to work a lot harder to elicit the desired response from an audience.
Here’s what I took away:
1. Don’t be lazy
The band met the brief, they did their job, and that was it. So when we were chastised, it grated.
Business lesson: do the bare minimum to get by, get the bare minimum back.
2. Put your wares out tentatively and you’ll get a lukewarm response
Being great at your job, showing up on time, and generally being a consummate professional go a long way. They don’t go the whole way.
Business lesson: being good at what you do is fine if good enough is what you want. If you want rapturous applause, stamping feet, and roars of ‘encore’, you need to let that fire in your belly burn with a fury that will not be contained.
3. Expect nothing
You have no control over anybody else in the room. There are no guarantees about how an audience will respond to you.
Business lesson: whatever you do will carry a degree of risk. Some people will be drawn to your fire like a moth, others repelled – even if you give 100%. You can up your chances of a favourable response by putting out what you want to receive, though ultimately, that may not change how the audience responds to you. Even after we were admonished, the energy level of the crowd didn’t change because, surprise surprise, the band hadn’t changed their energy level either. I suspect even if they had suddenly performed with a surge of enthusiasm, not much in the room would have altered, given their strange audience interaction. At least they could have walked away knowing that they’d left it all out there.
Be clear about the response you want
As a skilled professional, you have to lead the way. You set the tone.
Through your words, through your actions and through your delivery. It's not enough to retrospectively scold your audience because they didn’t deliver the response that you wanted. Be explicit: figure out how you'd like your audience to react and spend time cultivating that in yourself first.
Power pose. Meditate. Do star jumps. Breathe deeply.
If you want to be energised, move your physical being before a presentation. If you want to be calm and collected, breathe deeply and speak slowly. If you want to encourage audience participation, be searingly honest. Or take the British route: figure out a way to poke fun at yourself first, and overcome the awkwardness.
Don’t forget to give your words some thought too! Throw judgement and rebuke out the window. Slip on some empathy, a spritz of honesty, and a dab of humility.
Let me know how you get on!
Feel free to share any unusual interactions you’ve had, with businesses, bands or otherwise. Comments are below - I’m intrigued to hear your views.
And if standing awkwardly on the stage is something that you're fed up with, get in touch. I can help you clarify your message to connect with your audience - to the people that would work with you. Because it's surely more fun to be Mick Jagger than the amazing busker that everyone walks past.
Your words matter,
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Welcome to the weekly writing reflection!
Each week I share a quote that I’ve found inspiring. What started as a way for me to try and stay sane during lockdown has become a regular feature. The idea is to create space for you to do some active reflection through writing. Nothing demanding, simply jot down a few thoughts about your week. There’s no need to share, though if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to read your writing. Or, you can simply reflect on how your week has been. So…
Your quote, to find pause with is:
“My advice to you concerning applause is this: enjoy it but never quite believe it.”
- Robert Montgomery
And your writing prompt, should you wish to use one:
A little scepticism is good for…