We hear a lot about how hard it is to get attention from an audience these days. Everyone’s online, distracted or caught up with their own concerns. Surely it was easier, back in the day. Like back in 1599, when you could just open a theater, attract a crowd, and everyone would be enthralled. Right?
The Globe Theatre, commonly thought of as Shakespeare’s own – opened in 1599 with his play Henry V. The full house consisted of those in the pit, paying a mere penny; those in the balcony – merchants, the court and others with means to pay considerably more and occasionally Royalty would attend gracing Shakespeare with their considerable influence. The theatre was in the seedier part of town so there was a wide spectrum of people who would attend and therefore to whom he played. So what was an aspiring author to do? Imagine if you will, the chaos for an evening’s entertainment if the play went poorly!
Shakespeare wrote with an eye toward keeping his audience engaged – and that meant writing for all of his audience. From the groundlings in the pit, to the Royalty who would ultimately allow him to create stories that would promote the monarchy properly. Imagine the pressure…. If the people in the pit became bored, the noise and disruption could ruin the show for the balconies – and worse, they could be hiding rotten tomatoes! If the balconies were not pleased, they might not come back. Shakespeare and his actors would be broke and the theatre would close. And as for the Royalty….he could lose his head! An excellent play delivered by actors that understood their audience was crucial.
With live business events today we have similar challenges. A Sales Kickoff, a conference, a leadership meeting – every live audience has a wide range of interests and needs that must be thought of when building the content of a show. We spend time thinking about our message and the best ways to deliver that message. But how much time do we spend learning about our audience? When it is an internal audience we can often ignore the “water cooler issues” while turning all our attention to the needs of the shareholders; or the need to push sales and revenue while ignoring services issues. Though management may have their priorities, ignoring what the audience has on their many minds will prevent your message from getting across. Or worse, may become a lower priority due to a lack of understanding.
Tomatoes, lack of ticket sales and beheading in Shakespeare’s time could end up being disgruntled employees, customer disengagement and lawsuits today!
We cannot all be Shakespeare but we can learn from him. Every audience member needs our respect and the best of our engagement. How well do you know your audience? During your event how can you listen and learn from them? Our audiences today don’t bring rotten tomatoes but they do bring smart phones. If they listen and the message resonates, they will amplify that message to their online audience (yet another audience!). It’s not 1599 and we are not writing about Kings and Queens but we do have the same responsibility to our audience.