Tag Archives: audience

age before beauty

I work in a church building. We have Sunday school classes for adults.

When I started two years ago, there was a folder that listed them all by class title. It told the name of the class, the age bracket, the location, the teacher’s name, and a brief explanation of the group written by the group.

hope and meI made it pretty. I turned it into a trifold, put a catchy title on the front, put a picture on the back. I edited the copy a bit, but didn’t want to mess with what people said. All the classes are interested in helping people grow and learn and build relationships. Most of the classes don’t talk about what makes them demographically and microculturally distinct.

It was a nice, generic piece.

And I put the name of the class in bold type.

Yesterday while I was pouring dirt on a table in the middle of the hallway, a friend said, “I was talking to a couple people last night. Someone was visiting last week. The people trying to help the guest figure out what class to go to couldn’t find anything that told about the classes. They found a list of the classes on a map, but nothing about them.”

As I drove to work today, ready to address that problem with information for our welcome center people (the people that had been trying to help). I thought about my pretty brochure, the one that had been on the counter, right where they were. The piece that no one saw.

This afternoon, I took the pretty brochure and turned it into a two page, front and back piece that in 20 point type says “9:00am” on one side and “10:15 am” on the other. Then, in 18 point type I list the age bracket/life stage for each class. And then, in 12 point, I list the rest of the information.

It’s not pretty design for the people in the classes. There are no pictures. There is no cute title.

But that brochure didn’t work.

Now it’s functional design for people trying to help new people find a starting point.

Age before beauty. It’s the polite thing to do.

For more on communicating, here’s my teaching and learning page.

For more on communicating in churches, here’s my free ebook called Unchurchy: reflections on communication and church

the noble art of saying nothing new

Everything has already been said.

That’s how it seems sometimes. And there are some people who are just stuck explaining. It’s not terrible creative, they think, to explain what a policy means. It’s simple (and nothing to celebrate) to explain why a rule exists or how to apply someone else’s story to your life.

The self-denial is not at all admirable, however.

Think for a moment of an interpreter, standing between heads of state, helping each understand the other, bringing a sense of peace and understanding. A critical role, right? Think of a translator, taking a peace treaty written in one language and painstakingly finding the right word, the right nuance so it says the same thing in another language. Incredibly sensitive, right?

Though we usually think of translators and interpreters as moving between languages, sometimes we find them in business and church and organizations moving between the language of formal structure and the language of real people, the language of board and the language of client, the language of “Thus saith” and “you know how when you feel ___ and you want to ___? We’re helping with that.”)

When you are an organizational translator, a customer service interpreter, you are removing confusion and adding humanity to the rules and stories of an organization.

Looking at the confusion on someone’s face, a translator starts with a simple question: “Would you like to know what that means?” Then the translator connects what the person knows with what the organization or text says.

Not everyone can be an interpreter or a translator. Good translators have lived in both worlds. They are able to find equivalent words, yes, but they are also able to find equivalent stories, similar experiences, metaphors than illuminate the intent as well as the technical meaning. They aren’t trying to change anything about the rules or the policy or the guidelines. They are trying to remove the misunderstanding.

(However, a good translator may go back to the policymaker and say “this isn’t at all clear to anyone, even me.”)

Recently it worked for a wise saying I shared with a friend: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” became “Think flattery before the knife in the ribs vs an elbow in the ribs from your wife.”

Occasionally it’s “Jane, can I talk for a minute? Jim, here’s what she means.”

There will always be people who speak the language of stuffy, of legal, of technical, of formal, of structure (and if you think that everyone understands what you say or that “this is self-evident” or “that’s obvious”, you are one of these people.) There will always be people who don’t understand. And there will always be opportunities for interpreters to help the latter stay alive long enough to connect to the organizations they need.

Including your business. Including your church. Including you.

a smaller group is still full of people.

Sunday mornings, I teach.

I’m part of the staff at a church and so on Sunday mornings I run around helping  with many details, but at 9:00, I teach. It’s a class of about 18 or so.

I’m aware of our larger congregation as well. I greet or chat with many people. I find cables and equipment and rooms and answers. But I like to help people understand. So I teach.

Yesterday, I almost thought it didn’t matter. As I stood in the shower, having spent some time studying, before driving the 20 minutes to our building, I thought, “but no one will be there.”

It’s spring break here. In the culture of our small community, spring break is a big deal. It’s big enough that we set up fewer chairs on the first Sunday of spring break. Last year, my first year with this congregation, I was amazed at the drop in attendance.

That’s why I thought, “but no one will be there.”

I shook my head. I remembered that there would be people in the building. There would be people in the class. I still needed to be ready.

Our attendance was a third less than usual. Our class was half the usual size.

But 2/3 of our usual attendance is still bigger than the number of people I got stressed out about for 7 years at our previous church. Half a class is still a whole group of real people with real concerns about real kids living real lives. The individual conversations that I had are still real conversations with people who need encouragement and affirmation and challenge.

I understand maximizing influence. I understand numbers. I understand the significance of traffic.

But I also understand that when your business is relationships, in our case with God and each other, your primary measurement must be “whether” rather than “how many.”

“Did you care for the people you had?” is far more important than “how many people showed up?”

It turned out to be a good morning.

Sunday mornings, I learn.

I almost succumbed

I’m working on a couple enewsletters today. One goes to an increasing percentage of our congregation. Since the first of the year, we’ve been sending it weekly. It will eventually replace the mailed biweekly version. The other goes to our leaders. It hasn’t gone out for several months. (I got distracted.)

Today I decided that I needed to send out an edition of the leadership enewsletter.  It’s on my todo list. I have information about a seminar for everyone in that role. I have a PDF of the information. I started thinking about how to attached the PDF, how to cut and paste, how to upload it so that our people could download it.

I started thinking, in short, about the technical aspects of delivery.  But then I realized that I had completely forgotten about the implications of an article I had read not an hour before.

John Jantsch talked today about narrowly defining your ideal customer. He wrote about identifying the people you are trying to reach. He talked about finding a picture of a representative of that group. And then, he said, think carefully about them, as people rather than as a demographic.

  • What brings them joy?
  • What are they worried about?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • What do they hope to gain from us?

There are more questions, but they take us deep into thinking about the people we are trying to serve, to help, to invite, to involve.

Somehow, in the middle of my figuring out how to upload the brochure, John’s questions came back to me. As I think about our leaders, what are the challenges they are facing and how will this seminar help? As I think about their joys, and I think about asking them to spend a Saturday away from their families, a day in between their full-time jobs and their very active church involvement, do I know enough about the seminar to know that it will help increase that joy? That it will be worth the investment? As I think about their worries, about what is keeping them awake at night–people the manage, companies they work for, unemployed people they are helping–do I know enough about the seminar to be able to say, “This will help you!”

So I stopped. I sent an email back to the seminar team saying, “tell me more.”

I may not get an enewsletter out to our leaders today. And that’s okay. As much as I want to put a checkmark next to “publish the enewsletter” on my list, I think the “build and equip people to serve” item is more important.

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For more information on MailChimp, the enewsletter provider we use, click here. Powered by MailChimp

reverberant silence

St John the Evangelist is an old church. It’s the oldest church in Indianapolis. It feels like “church”. High ceiling, stained glass, candles, long and narrow.

“Ubi Caritas” is an old hymn. Fifth century old. Though the setting is newer, when sung by a children’s choir, it feels like “church music”.

When you put the two together, the music and the building, some of us end up in tears. The music is full of spaces, silences. The room is full of spaces, resonance. Each silence in the music draws music from the building.

The two are perfectly built for each other.

Other pieces don’t work in this room. Pieces that pour piano notes into the space cause them to pile up, colliding with each other. Pieces with long smooth melodies seem to weave together and trip and get muddled.

When we create content, whether in writing or in speaking or in conversation or in powerpoint decks, we are wise to think of the space which will receive what we make. The physical space, yes, but the space in hearts and ears and thoughts and noise.

If there will be much mental noise, then short, loud, striking, simple.

If there will be interaction, then winding, provacative, reflective.

If there will be hurting hearts, then soothing, healing.

If there will be newly aware or thoughtfully seeking, then clear unassuming explanation.

Composers, at times, write for kinds of space.

Shouldn’t, couldn’t we?

not everyone likes coffee

I was raised well by my Swedish family. I always offer coffee. (and then take some myself, thank you very much).

Some people like tea. My offer of coffee is misguided. Some people are opposed to caffeine. My offer of coffee is an affront. Some people aren’t thirsty. My offer of coffee is irrelevant. Some people like coffee, but not the way I make it. My offer of coffee forces them to be polite.

I could, of course, only talk with people who like coffee the way I make it. I could (implicitly) demand that they conform to my tastes if they are going to talk with me. But that would be come tedious after awhile.

I thought of this today when someone said that a group of people didn’t understand something that I had written. I realized that how I write here, where you choose to drink the coffee, where an audience gathers because they have acquired a taste for the way I brew ideas, will be different than how I write elsewhere, on behalf of others. When I am writing on behalf of my organization, I have to remember that the audience isn’t my audience, it is the organization’s audience.

That audience is part of a microculture that has formed in this organization over the past century. While I’ve been forming elsewhere for half that time, I’ve only been here for a year. And while I can use my voice and perspective, there is an edge in my personal writing that is not part of the organization’s persona.

I read today about buyer personas in a case study of rightnow.com. The post talks about identifying clear profiles of the buyers you are seeking. Once you have this picture, you structure your communication strategy, a website, for example, to answer the questions that this buyer has. the company is an IT company, but the application became clear for me.

On my blog, I always offer coffee. But what if I help our church think about our people. There is a group of people in our church who are parents of young children. They really don’t care much about coffee. They pretty much want to know what time and where and how long the children’s events are. They want to be able to find that information quickly and really don’t care about my odd photos and clever wording.

There is a group of people in our church who are committed to learning and want to know where the learning opportunities are and whether we have anything online and what we have offline.

There is a group of people in our church who want to serve other people. They need to know when and where and how and who.

And as I think about those buyer personas, I realize that we haven’t been thinking that way. I realize that if we did, we could help them very well and could be much clearer in our website and all of our communication. And that’s a good thing.

I think I’ll get some more coffee and work on that. Can I get you some?

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That ringing sound? It’s my virtual Red Kettle.  But it’s okay to give at the office.

i forget the audience

Sometimes I forget the audience.

Sometimes when I am thinking about strategy, I forget the people that need to hear.

Sometimes when I am writing an appeal letter, I forget that there are different reasons to give. I forget that there are different reasons that people are on the mailing list.

Sometimes when I am being pragmatic, I forget that there are people who are dreaming.

Sometimes when I am being creative, I forget that some people hear facts best.

Sometimes when I am really busy, I think I even forget Nancy.

And then I look up. And she is there waving.

“This is who I am,” she says.

“This is how I think. This is what I care about. This is where I am.”

And when I am wise, I listen to that voice and I smile at that smile and I wave at that wave.

But there are many audiences that don’t care nearly as much about me as Nancy does. And they aren’t waving hello.

They are waving goodbye.

When we stare at the screen, at the coolness we create, at the wonderful wit of our words, at the intricacy of our designs, let’s not forget what I often forget.

There are people in there.

The next piece

You are in the middle of a presentation. You have the audience leaning in. They are tweeting every word. They are writing their own posts in their heads with the wonderful material you are giving them. They are, you are, fully engaged.

Suddenly, a costumed gorilla runs into the room, screams, and runs out.

Everyone sees. Everyone is startled, and then laughs.

Everyone is distracted. People are still tweeting, but now they are talking about what just happened more than about whatever you were saying.

Unless you are one of the people known for having costumed gorillas running through, this is a silly thing to do.

And there probably should only be one of those people.

At any given moment of intentional discourse, any given time where you are putting words and experiences together for a purpose, you have a bag full of pieces. And you have several bags for other games, for other purposes. The temptation, often, is to go for the big effect, for the huge memorable experience, for the huge E, for the screaming gorilla.

Fight that temptation.

You are in a relationship with an audience, you are trying to make the next move, to give others something to build on, to build with. You are trying to take what they have done and thought, add to it in a meaningful way, and give them a chance.

Or you are building a billboard, helping people know what goes on inside as they drive by outside. you want them to stay safe, to catch a glimpse, to have a really clear bit of understanding.

As fun as it is to be remembered for your effects, what would be even cooler would be to be remembered for the thoughtfully built relationships, the way that you wove value into the lives of the people that you knew, the way that you played the next piece, whether on a board or a sign, with respect and awareness of long-term effectiveness.

The gorilla guy is remembered. And copied. And becomes his own parody. The guy who plays the really big E on the gameboard is amusing. Once. But the person who thinks well about the next piece?

She changes the world.

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This is another occasional entry the next sentence series. Follow that link for the previous sentence.

What I want to build.

Lots of people talk about building an audience, building traffic to their blogs. I struggle with that idea.

Not for others, mind you. In fact, I love the idea of sending you to posts that I find valuable. I have a blogroll to make those connections. I use twitter sometimes, I put links in posts sometimes. I send emails with links. I have no problem driving traffic. (In fact, my next “8 ways Wednesday” post will be full of links…8 of them, in fact.)

My struggle is with establishing for myself the goal of building an audience.

I’ll be honest. I love traffic. I look at my site statistics. I treasure the Brogan Bump (DEF: The traffic spike that comes when Chris Brogan includes your blog in a tweet.). But when I find myself thinking, “What can I do next that will get attention,” I have to stop.

I could build an audience in all kinds of ways, but most of them are, for me, questionable. There are enough people who have enough questions about pastors, of which I am one, that I gotta be careful.

So, what about building relationships? That’s the social part of social media. And relationships are wonderful. We are built for relationship. We are built to connect together. And it takes more effort to build relationships than to build an audience.

The handful of you who are reading this will read that statement and say, “Wait. I have both. And I have built an audience BY building relationships.” And I understand that.

But.

When I focus on getting eyes, I start writing for emotional buzz. I start turning phrases just to see if I can. I start trying to pick topics that will get attention.

I’m much better off, however, if I am focusing on people rather than topics. If I listen and encourage and comment. If I build connections.

Unfortunately, however, I run into a problem that way as well. I mean, I can comment on every comment. I can connect and friend and social.Eventually, however, I run the risk of maintaining networks just for the sake of maintaining the network.

Rather than elaborating, and running the risk of making people say, “What? You mean he’s pretending to care?” I need to move on.

So where do I want to end up? What really matters? Building people. I want to help people grow and deepen. I want to give you tools and understanding and resources and encouragement not for the sake of connecting but for your sake.

For example, I want to tell you stories that help you understand what prayer really is so that you can have conversations with God. I want to help people not be so afraid of church and what it will do to them. I want to help people figure out what they are built to do. I want you to be a better friend, to have meaning and find meaning and make meaning.

I want to help you matter.

And that, for me, takes the most effort of all. Because in order to build people, I need to listen and respond…just like in building relationships. However, I also need to learn, to read, to think, to have resources available so that in the course of conversations, in relationships, I have something to add.

And I can’t do that for everyone, for a huge audience, for the sake of building an audience.

It’s why, by the way, I’m not twittering much. I can’t start conversations that I can’t continue, that I can follow. It’s how I’m built.

I’m not sure this makes sense. I’m not sure I’m clear.

But I’m pretty sure I’m for you.

Hoosier Audience

We went to a recital last night, Nancy and I. We would have invited you if we had thought about ustream before we showed up. As it ended up, I ran an old VHSC camera to capture it.

Ashley Treadway is a senior music education major. Her mom and Nancy work together for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. Ashley did the recital as part of the requirements for her degree.

She did a great job, looking out at an audience that was full of potential attitudinal landmines. As I was listening to one voice taking years of practice and years of ensemble performance and years of life and turning it all into one night in the spotlight, I realized that Ashley was doing what all of us do every day: taking her gifts and training and giving them to an audience.

But what an intriguing audience.

In the front row were her parents. They are the people who know her well, who have turned labor into money into lessons. They are the investors in this voice. They cheer when things are great, cry along when things are not, and care more for the person than the voice.

Just behind them and then off to the left are the grandparents and aunt. They have been cheering at a distance. They helped build the people that built Ashley. They help by being part of the context.

To the right, closer to the camera, are the friends. They are also a few rows behind the camera. They are the ones who whistle when the recital is over, who stand and applaud when that kind of response is slightly over the top for the kind of music. But they don’t care. They have been through this process themselves, or will be through it soon. They know from personal experience the risk of putting your voice–unprocessed, unamplified, unharmonized–into space.

The white hair close to us, just to the right of the middle of the picture? No one knows. He just came to the recital. Not family, not student, just a guy who listened well.

The person closest to us, with the paper in front of her, is an evaluator. She took notes throughout the recital. She never clapped, she just wrote. She is the keeper of tradition, one of the gatekeepers to deciding whether Ashley is really a musician or is just another singer.

In our writing, in our living, are all of these audience members, and many more. There is a tremendous temptation to play to one or the other. For example:

  • We focus entirely on the critic, trying to measure up and feeling the terror of being professionally destroyed. We play too cautiously.
  • We focus on the parents who have done so much, but who we can also read too well, too sensitively in the moment.
  • We focus on the cheering friends, enjoying the fellowship and affirmation, but not getting the evaluation which can be so helpful.
  • We focus on the random guy, missing out on the commitment and continuity of community.
  • We focus on the camera, wanting the perpetuity but missing the moment.

Or we can focus on doing the task at hand incredibly well.

Ashley, I think, had a good time. She sang well. And all of the audiences, including the woman right in front of me, were very affirming. And my guess is that for the good of all the audiences, she focused on what mattered: the music. And in focusing on doing the music well, all of us received more than we imagined: the delight of watching someone do part of what they were made to do.

Only part?

Yes. You see, Ashley isn’t a music performance major, she is a music education major. She has gone through this not so much to make her living from singing, but to spend her life helping other people find their voice.

Sometimes, we live our lives in front of each other so that we can help others understand how to live a life.
Or, we can just play to the audience.