My formative years as a performer were shaped by many amazing experiences but being a member of Air Force entertainment group Tops In Blue is at the top of the list. The reason it stands out is because it’s the first time I remember learning the importance of the audience.
Air Force Tops In Blue took military discipline and applied it to live performance, teaching us all of the things you’d probably expect: vocal quality, precision with choreography, rehearsal discipline, and more. But the revolutionary thing about this experience and something that translates to today’s ‘attention economy’ is how we were taught to listen to and appreciate our audiences.
Director of Air Force Entertainment Tom Edwards is the Tops In Blue version of Mr Miyagi, or Vince Lombardi, an amazing man with a knack for inspiring you and kicking your ass at the same time. From day one he drilled into my thick 19 year old skull that as a performer (read content provider), I exist solely to create stories that empower the audience to share their experience, and the best way to relate to them is to never forget that I’m one of them. There was no ‘I’m on stage and you’re not, so I’m more important’. And giving the audience less than 100% was unacceptable, because less than 100% was a waste of their attention. This was 1994. No Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter. Email wasn’t even mainstream and AOL was in it’s infancy. The only relationship we had with the audience was in person, in the flesh. Our job was to make sure we gave them something worth talking about, an experience worth spreading, as a way to thank them for allowing us access to their valuable attention. Just because they were clapping didn’t mean we got it right, it meant we had to prove that we deserved the applause. Mr Edwards believed in this philosophy so much that it was customary (and still is) for Tops In Blue to exit the stage at the end of the show and line up in the lobby, thanking each audience member for coming as they exit the theatre. It is literally choreographed into the show.
And so it goes for our audiences online. Like it or not, everyone has a show and we want an audience. When your webpage is loading, when you get a Follow or a Like, the lights in the theatre are going down and we’re waiting for something special to happen. How will you ensure that your audience’s attention isn’t wasted?
Become one of them and speak from that perspective.
We search online to find a piece of ourselves, and when we can see ourselves in you, in your story, we connect. And we become your audience. No hype, no small talk, no shoving ads down our throat. Know your audience, become one of them and slowly but surely they will champion you.
When people launch their browsers, it’s showtime. You have our attention.