Changing the Landscape of Theater Education: Pig Iron Theater and UArts

©Pig Iron Theatre

©Pig Iron Theatre

Breaking the fourth wall in theater education, the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts will bring avant-garde theater inside the ivory tower. Beginning this fall, the university’s faculty will work side-by-side with company members of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre to challenge and train graduate students to push traditional boundaries in performance to hone a new generation of “theatrical innovators.”

The partnership will create two new degrees at the University of the Arts: a Master of Fine Arts and a Certificate in “Pig Iron School’s Devised Performance program.” Poised to “change the landscape of theater education,” according to Broadway World, the MFA and Certificate programs will be under the direction of Pig Iron’s cofounder Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, within the UArts Ira Brind School of Theater Arts led by Joanna Settle.

“This partnership breaks down the traditional boundaries of a theater education to create a program that is adept at serving the current landscape of performance,” said Settle, director of the Ira Brind School. Students will train alongside award-winning faculty, who are artistic practitioners and educators.

Settle believes devised performance represents the future of theater. Devised theater has been gaining momentum globally. It draws “from the collective inspiration of the group, not from a script written by a singular playwright, and performances are not confined by the boundaries of the stage, but often occur in found or public spaces.”

“If you’re a theater student or professional theater practitioner, this is pretty big news,” reported PhiladelphiaMagazine. “From an artistic standpoint, the new program is a win-win: Pig Iron’s current program will be accentuated by professors and additional coursework at UArts.” As Bauriedel told Philadelphia:

“We are thrilled about this partnership because the curriculum as we’ve designed it and as we’ve taught it will remain intact. The core of the program is the same and the faculty will not change. Now, students who want to earn an MFA will spend 2 years in the studio with the certificate students, training to become theatre practitioners. MFA students will take additional courses at UArts: they’ll study visual art practice and music theory; they’ll learn an instrument and will study theatre pedagogy. MFA students will also stay for an additional semester (making the MFA a 2.5 year or 5 semester program), during which time they’ll stretch their learning toward full-length original works, site-specific pieces, [and] collaborations with visual artists, composers and choreographers. They will also have the opportunity to partner with a community organization to test the meaning of devised performance beyond the conventional spectator/performer relationship.”

Founded in 1995, Pig Iron Theatre Company has been lauded internationally. The New York Times called them “one of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions.” In 2011, the ensemble created their diploma program, Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. The program trains artists in physical theater rooted in Lecoq pedagogy and ensemble theater practice.

Established in 1876, the University of the Arts is one of the only U.S. universities dedicated solely to educating students in the visual and performing arts, design and writing. In January 2014, noted director Joanna Settle was brought in to lead the Brind School, and the program has evolved quickly under her leadership.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Art and Trauma: The Soldier Art Workshop

©Art Therapy Alliance

©Art Therapy Alliance

Art may not be the first therapeutic tool that comes to mind when treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it has proven to be effective and is being used in a number of places to help returning soldiers. In El Paso, a new collaborative project called the Soldier Art Workshop Program will be launched by the El Paso Art Association in March. The volunteer effort brings local artists together with area soldiers and their families and is designed to teach art to the soldiers as they “make the transition to normal military and family life after deployment.” Twelve workshops will be held at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Fort Bliss Family Center over the course of a year. They will focus on visual arts, including oil and watercolor painting, mixed-media encaustics, and digital photography.

Arts organizations participating in the Soldier Art Workshop Program include the El Paso Museum of Art, Plein Air Painters of El Paso, the Pastel Society of El Paso, and Rio Bravo Watercolorists. Military sponsorship has been provided by Ft. Bliss MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation), the Warrior Transition Battalion, and the Ready & Resilience Center. Among the El Paso artist volunteers are Jan Wisbrun Dreher, Krystyna Robbins, Julie Caffee-Cruz, Nina Walker, Ben Avant, Pat Olchefski-Winston, Darrell McGahhey, Jimmie Bemont, Ron Fritsch, Melinda Etzold, and Rami Scully.

These artists are in good company in using art with returning soldiers. A National Geographic cover story this month, “How Art Heals the Wounds of War” by Andrea Stone, reported on an art therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, which had soldiers making masks revealing an aspect of their experience. Melissa Walker, an art therapist who works with veterans at Walter Reed, said the program started in 2010 to help returning injured service men and women. “We needed to look for additional types of treatment,” Walker said. “At the time, I’m not so sure people understood the impact it would have, (but after) a very short time, it became clear [they] were taking to art therapy.”

Jackie Biggs, a 2013 masters graduate from George Washington University’s Columbian College Art Therapy Program, was given a National Endowment for the Arts grant to “integrate art therapy into treatment for active-duty military patients at Fort Belvoir,” one of the first in the country to focus on the area of art therapy for trauma victims. That treatment has now become a standard component of the hospital’s patient/soldier protocol. Biggs believes it’s been effective because “this is a group that tends to internalize their trauma; they hope it will go away if they don’t talk about it.” But swallowing trauma like that can lead to depression, abuse, or suicide, whereas art therapy can “give them a voice when words aren’t there.”

Another program that has received national recognition is Operation Oak Tree, run by the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) in Chicago. Operation Oak Tree utilizes art therapy and the creative arts to help military families from the time of pre-mobilization and deployment through reintegration. It gained the attention of Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden when it was part of a presentation made in June where Dr. Biden was touring to promote an initiative she’s promoting with First Lady Michelle Obama to mobilize all sectors of society to give members of the armed forces and their families opportunities and support.

The new El Paso program has the potential to serve as an affordable model in this vein because it encourages the local arts community to serve as a conduit for supporting soldiers and their families at a very difficult time.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Innovation in Education: Bridge International’s Academy-in-a-Box

For six years, an innovator in charter school education has moved quickly to educate some of the world’s poorest children – for less per month than it costs to buy a Venti Frappuccino. Bridge International, a Silicon Valley startup with aggressive goals, has just had its founders named Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by The World Economic Forum for its innovation and success in educating children in Kenya. The company, which now boasts the “largest chain of private schools in Africa,” according to Izzy Best reporting for CNBC,” is poised to enter three more African countries this year.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102361103#

“The first Bridge International Academy opened in 2009 using a “school-in-a-box” franchise model. The objective, says Best, was to give “children a quality education for roughly $5 a month, beginning with early childhood development classes through 8th grade.” Now, founders Jay Kimmelman and his wife, Dr. May Shannon Kimmelman, have established more than 350 locations with more than 100,000 pupils in Kenya and have received significant recognition for Bridge International, which was named one of the 25 Most Audatious Companies by Inc. Magazine in 2014.

Supported by big name investors, including Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar, the company looks to provide quality schooling to children living in extreme poverty. According to The World Bank, Best reports, “one billion people will live in extreme poverty in 2015, while 2.2 billion people live on less than $2 a day…For many who live in developing economies, this means that access to good schools remains elusive, as the effects of poor education limits employment opportunities and increases inequality for women. Bridge International seeks to remedy this problem with a low-cost educational model.”

Bridge International has achieved this by using technology, including tablets and smartphones to run curricula and administration packaged in their program. They have standardized the lesson plans and put them on a timed system where their teachers are delivering proscribed lesson plans at exactly the same time using the tablets. Administrative tasks, including tracking teacher scheduling and subsequent evaluation is included, so they can be sure their “Academic Masters,” as teachers are called are delivering the program as expected.

“What we’ve done is taken a systems approach and looking at all the parts of the educational process and say, ‘What parts do you need to deliver world-class quality education, but at a price point that a customer is getting an experience that you’d get at any great school anywhere in the world?’ ” Best quotes  Kimmelman as saying.

Today, Best reports, “more than 100,000 students are enrolled at nearly 350 Bridge schools, all in Kenya. They are staffed with approximately 4,500 teachers who leverage technology and use digital devices to deliver class lessons created by education specialists. Student evaluations are electronically tracked and monitored by school administrators.” The Kimmelman’s intend to expand the program soon into India, Uganda and Nigeria.

According to the company’s website, they “invested large sums of capital in research, development, technology, and curriculum before even the first pupil was admitted,” to achieve “efficiencies both in terms of the overhead costs required to run an academy and in terms of increasing the….The vast majority of non-instructional activities that an Academy Manager would normally have to deal with are all automated and centralized through a combination of our Academy Manager’s smartphone application and our Teachers’ tablet application.  This frees our Academy Manager to focus on the critical work that must be executed locally – overseeing classroom instruction and building and managing relationships with parents and the local community.”

Their scripted curriculum delivered via tablet has “step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.”

Terrance Ross, reporting in October in The Atlantic on what the Kimmelmans had achieved with Bridge International said, a report by the World Bank indicated in contrast that only “35 percent of Kenya’s public school teachers showed “mastery of the curriculum they teach….Previous attempts to solve this problem have been expensive, and ineffective.”  According to the same report, he said: “The government spends more than any of its neighbors. There’s a disconnect between Kenya’s spending on education and learning outcomes. More of the same is not enough….This is where Bridge has found its niche: somewhere between the exorbitantly expensive private schools and the absentee-ridden public ones.”

According to Ross, “So far, it’s been working: Bridge’s students score an average of 35 percent higher on core reading skills and 19 percent higher in math than their peers in neighboring schools. But not everyone is on board. Kate Redman, a communications and advocacy specialist for UNESCO’s Education For All initiative, isn’t convinced by Bridge’s long-term prospects.

“Redman also warns against Bridge and other private schools for potentially “imposing external cultural values” on the country. While private schools can help, it can be a slippery slope as well—the onus should remain on public schools to keep improving.”

Others have questioned Bridge International’s formulaic approach. Jason Beaubien, NPR’s Global Health and Development Correspondent for “Marketplace,” described this way, “Their business model takes the franchise model of Mcdonalds; merges it with a tablet computer’s efficiency at delivering information; automates daily operations through a smartphone and then plunks the final product down in a third world slum for $5 a month.”

His segment included comment from  Ed Gragert, the U.S. director of the Global Campaign for Education, who said, “If somebody suggested that kind of an educational model, in this country they would be laughed out of the educational community,” which advocates for increased access to education in the developing world. “That’s not how kids learn best,” he says. “Kids learn by interacting with each other. It seems like we are going back for the sake of somebody making a profit to where a robot could teach that class.”

Bridge International’s May Kimmelman disagreed saying the company had a different view of their teachers. She emphasized the company is working to “solve one of the biggest problems facing the poorest of the poor — the lack of access to decent education.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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How to Market When the Product is You

“Without Promotion Something Terrible Happens…Nothing”   –P.T. Barnum

Marketing yourself is one of the biggest challenges creative people face. No matter how much help you get from your agent, well-meaning relatives or friends; the person you need to get squarely on your side is you.

While there are notable exceptions, those P.T. Barnum types who have no problem being their own best ad man; the greater majority find it easier to promote virtually anyone and anything else, than to trumpet their own work and accomplishments. I’ve found the same with arts organizations, much more so than in dealing with business and industry. I think the reason is due to the intimacy you have with what you’re promoting.

Take for example tech or service companies that have a new product or training program they believe will be useful. They can talk about capabilities, improvements in quality and increased productivity; how they can improve what’s being done. That’s much easier to quantify in terms of ROI.

When the product is more personal – how much someone will enjoy your artwork, game or book; experience a concert or new play; what you’re promising is quite different. It’s subjective. And knowing that is what stops the creative business person in his or her tracks – because they want to deliver what they promise.

What to do? Once you get past your initial inclination — pulling covers over your head (not at all effective), wishing someone else will do marketing for you (costly and only works well when you’re prepared to be fully engaged), hoping you’ll get discovered and duly rewarded for your hard-earned talent (wonderful when that happens on its own, but not a waiting game most can afford to play), you need to find a good, practical solution.

The answer lies between knowing what inspires you and what makes you mad. If you’re devoted to the creative life, you’ve chosen to forgo what others might have advised would be a safer path. Revenue’s not guaranteed, there’s not defined career ladder, and you don’t know how what you’re creating today will be received when it’s eventually brought to market.

It’s the strength of your passion about what you’re creating and the belief others should want it that must motivate you to succeed. Beyond that, what’s crucial is a clear understanding of what’s distinctly marketable and knowing what to do to advance your product or cause.

It can be helpful to get mad –“How dare they not see that they should buy this?!” Then it’s good to step back and look at what may be missing in your approach. How can you be clearer, add value, convey excitement? What’s worked in the past to get you to buy or commit?

Marketability is unique to each situation. Ask yourself, does this advance a trend? Is it a departure from the norm, a new technique, require a particular mix of talents, or offer an audience new ways to engage? Ask yourself which elements are primary and what drives you to go back to your work again and again to do better? That’s how you’ll find the key elements.

Then look at tools and techniques you can use. Start in your comfort zone then expand from there. Outline possible strategies and make a case for how what you’d like to do is best suited to advance your goals. Now, go back to your publishers, promoters and friends. Ask what they suggest. Try several ideas out, reassess and decide what’s working well and what may need to be changed.

Keep your ego out of it as much as possible. It’s not about being accepted or rejected; it’s whether you’ve found the right message and techniques to convey what you believe in to your potential audience. If you believe you have something worth sharing, this is not sleight of hand; it’s acting on the strength of conviction that you wouldn’t be investing so much time and talent, unless you believe you have something of real value to impart. Success is both in doing the work well and in finding those who want to be part of the experience you can offer.

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The Art of the Pitch

14 Art of pitch

Pitching well is tough whether you’re on the mound or in the board room. It takes focus, concentration and a lot of practice. Pitching in a business setting is challenging because you’re expected to deliver your message in a succinct, meaningful way and your pitch time can easily be cut short if you aren’t well-prepared. No wonder that this type of selling can produce performance anxiety much the same as public speaking, which is known to be a top fear for many people.

Learning to pitch effectively is well worth the effort and the secrets to doing it well, not surprisingly, lie with research and preparation. But other factors can impact your success, and it’s important to understand pitching as a form of performance and engagement as well as sales.

First, think about whom your audience is and the time you’re likely to have. These days, almost inevitably, time will be short. Think about the setting you’ll be in. Will it be a person’s office, a conference room, or a booth on a convention floor? What potential interruptions or distractions might there be? Will you have access to the set ups and equipment you might want to use in your presentation? In terms of content, ask yourself what you have to offer that will engage and interest the person or people you’re talking to. Consider what you can you do to make your presentation to them memorable both audibly and visually. Do your research well in advance so you can 1) make sure you’re talking with the right people, 2) know their concerns and possible objections, and 3) come equipped with a way to present that you’re comfortable with and is appropriate to the setting.

Know too that despite the fact that we’re constantly being told that everything is about storytelling, pitching well is about having interaction that’s designed to draw out meaningful information. It’s like a first date – you want to introduce yourself, but also get to know the other person to see if your styles and interests will mesh. As with dating, being nervous is okay and showing that you genuinely care about the other person will go a long way. Courtesy – being punctual, respectful of the time being given to you and staying focused on what their objectives are – is imperative as is honesty and a willingness to walk away, if you find it’s not a good fit.

Be prepared to keep the first meeting brief and to the point, and don’t be “pitchy.” Think beforehand about you can offer and what the obstacles might be. The most common are cost, whether the person has decision-making authority, if needs are likely to be met, and time commitment.

Don’t make the mistake of turning someone off by coming on too strong. These days engagement is expected to be a two-way street with both parties having equal chance to provide input. Customization and personalization are of great value. Use what you’ve prepared as a jumping off point for meaningful conversation rather than keeping to a script, but still keep in mind the information you need to remember to convey. Decide ahead of time what you’d like to take away from the conversation, let the person know how you’d like to follow up and, when you do, consider whether there’s anything else you can provide them by way of thanks – which can be information, a connection, or suggestions based on your conversation.

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Trends to Watch as Gen Z Comes of Age

Gen z

Now that we’ve hit the end of the generational alphabet with Generation Z (mid-1990s-present), we’re in the midst of courting a group born and cultivated with more market savvy than any who preceded them. Forrester Research has found them to be “demanding consumers” exposed to many brand choices. And, compared with their parents and grandparents, they are proving to be more resistant to persuasion and fully expect to have a say in the evolution of products they consume. Further, they’re digitally savvy, constantly connected and experience driven. They’re also looking for ultra-personalization in their buying choices and in how they connect with marketers and companies.

A study published by the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University, http://bit.ly/1iRLUh7, found four trends likely to characterize Generation Z as consumers: 1) a focus on innovation, 2) an insistence on convenience, 3) an underlying desire for security, and 4) a tendency toward escapism.

It’s interesting to view these in light of trends recently discussed by Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, at Vocus’s Demand Success conference. Engagement, innovation, and crowd-sourcing were all highly touted by Zuckerberg as critical components to successful marketing in today’s competitive environment. Author and illustrator groups might want to take a turn at what companies like Google and Facebook have done with their hackathon initiatives – where employees are encouraged to take time every few months to stay up overnight, brainstorm and try out new concepts with the group based, not on what employees do in their day jobs, but on their individual passions. Zuckerberg said that at Facebook, many of their most interesting innovations had been conceived in that environment.

Per Gen Z’s second priority, we’re certainly seeing consuming made increasingly convenient and customizable. Purchasing today has much less to do with physical location or availability than with discoverability of products and services. Online shopping has prompted a massive shift, and now we’re hearing about almost instantaneous gratification, with the imminent package delivery by drones (which Zuckerberg believes is something we’ll see from Amazon in the next couple of years), and with 3-D printing of virtually anything you can imagine – and some I hadn’t – from designed-on-you clothing to printed spaghetti and pancakes to (and apparently China is working on this) 3-D printed homes you can live in. This ties-in with Gen Z’s desire for convenience and for products that have been personalized for them, so be prepared to have your customers want to engage more and more in the products they purchase.

Fun and engagement are also paramount to this group, and that’s where gamification fits in – and is prepared to be part of every minute of our daily lives. Having trouble waking up to catch your next flight? Snooze is an alarm clock app that pledges $0.25 of your own money to charity every time you hit the snooze button. Want to visually capture a day in your life as an artist to share with your fans?  The Narrative Clip is a new wearable device that can take and store a photo automatically every 30 seconds. Wondering where your dog or cat goes when he vanishes out of site? Tagg or Tractive, which use GPS technology, give you the chance to virtually “ride along” with your pet as they prowl the neighborhood – good perhaps for authors overcoming writer’s block on that next animal fantasy story. And for sci-fi, it’s hard to imagine what’s next when there’s so much technology we couldn’t have even imagined five or ten years ago cropping up all around us — and which will be the reality for Gen Z. Next up, in the generational nomenclature – a group some are beginning to call Generation Alpha. Terrified to think what that may indicate when we meet them as consumers.

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Rent-to-Own Art – A Potential Boon to Buyers and Artists

can-stock-photo_csp6844321

by Andre Smith

Many people linger in museums, longing to bring such beauty into their homes, perhaps dreaming of someday investing in artwork. So, what restricts that wish to a dream? For many art lovers and would-be buyers, the art market seems too complex and daunting, or art prices appear economically out-of-reach.

To accommodate this widespread but largely unfulfilled interest in art acquisition, many major museums and smaller galleries have started offering rental and rent-to-own programs, such as San Francisco’s MOMA.

While art rental has a long tradition, especially among corporate clients, the rent-to-own movement is increasingly gaining popularity. In many cases, the arrangement may benefit the buyer, the selling institution and the artist. Buyers get to see how they like “living with” the painting or sculpture before they commit to a major expenditure. As a result, individuals who would not usually consider purchasing art “whet their appetites” and just might begin a lifelong habit of collecting.

In the meantime, throughout the rental period, the gallery makes artwork available to appreciative eyes, which would otherwise be displayed at considerable expense, or kept out-of-sight in storage areas. In the long run, the gallery and artist also benefit, as the pool of potential buyers increases.

When a work is displayed in a home instead of a gallery setting, it instantly creates the word-of-mouth buzz that galleries usually labor to generate. Imagine that you’ve just acquired a beautiful piece of artwork, and you may only have it for a couple months: Wouldn’t you tell your friends, show it off with a dinner party or two, and flood your social media streams with proud images?

How Rent-to-Own Programs Work

In general, rent-to-own agreements are based around a commitment-free rental period, followed by the opportunity to make a purchase. Beyond that, individual programs can vary widely in the agreement details. According to BBC reports, two or three-month rentals are fairly common. Rental terms of a few months allow individuals to try out living with the artwork without burdening themselves with an excessively long commitment.

Pricing can also vary widely. As an example, the San Francisco MOMA might rent out a piece worth $30,000 for a little over $1000 per month. Taxes and installation charges also apply, and insurance costs will also vary. As with any rent-to-own arrangement, should the renter eventually decide to purchase, the final purchase price will be lowered to partially reflect the funds already invested during the rental period. For example, the Seattle Art Museum lets buyers put half of the rental fees toward the purchase price.

Expanding the Pool of Buyers

In general, the rent-to-own arrangement appeals to potential buyers for a few simple reasons. It allows them to enjoy artwork, in their homes, without committing to a major investment. Plus, for those interested in an eventual purchase, beginning with a rental significantly lowers the pressure and the risk of “buyer’s remorse.” As a result, risk-shy investors and novice art buyers are especially likely to find the option attractive.
Rent-to-own arrangements also offer a convenient alternative for a range of specific scenarios. For new companies in high-end sectors, acquiring the right artwork is fundamental to creating the office environment that gives clients the right impression. However, the cost of purchasing art outright can prove prohibitive for startups. By choosing to rent, with the option to buy, companies can suit their spending to meet the changing budget of their growing business.

Aiding Artists

Given the increasingly popularity of the rent-to-own arrangement, why should the scheme be of interest to artists? Firstly, by working with galleries that specialize in rentals, artists can massively increase their exposure. Although you may typically imagine your artwork to eventually grace a handsome home, consider how many more people will see a piece that hangs in a workplace. High-end hotels and competitive firms constitute many of the most ardent art renters. Many galleries, such as CKI Fine Art Rental, have specialized services to shepherd such clients through the art rental and rent-to-own process.

As an added bonus, letting galleries rent out your artworks ensures that they will be loved and appreciated. Instead of hanging at the back of a gallery, waiting to be purchased, your artwork will be continuously pleasing viewers. And at the same time, a growing public will be getting to know your name.

Andre Smith is a writer from Brisbane. His great passion is art – he’s an admirer of Ansel Adams‘ work and Asian fine art. You can connect with him on Google+.
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Content Meets Utility Marketing

Wondering how to drive more traffic to your business via your website, blog, and social media sites? Consider these stats on data per minute on the Internet (and that was last year, so of course even more now):

-204,166,667 email messages

-2,000,000 search queries on Google

-684,478 users share on Facebook

-1,300,000 video views

-47,000 app downloads

In the marketing world, the messaging has been that “content is king,” which makes sense given that we know consumers have been getting more and more fatigued and resistant to advertising. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, “more than nine out of ten B2B marketers are using some form of content marketing.” So that’s not the problem, the issue moving forward is in how to create content that will get noticed – and how to engage consumers in a way that will create loyalty to you and your brand.

Very difficult these days, but Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype, and Mitch Joel, author of Ctrl Alt Delete and Six Pixels of Separation, are evangelists for the concept of utility marketing, which suggests that content focus and consumer engagement should shift from promoting the value of a product or brand to developing a user experience that is concrete and useful to the consumer. It’s a welcome shift from pumping out quantity messaging to looking for new ways to engage in a meaningful way.

Baer says, “Success flows to organizations that inform, not organizations that promote. Three key concepts described in his book are to provide “Self-Serve Information,” which is to figure out what you can provide that can be most useful to your consumers, thus establishing yourself as an ongoing source of information; “Radical Transparency,” anticipating and providing answers to the questions they may have about you; and “Real-Time Relevancy,” which is about being prepared to provide information timed when it’s most useful to the consumer. 

Joel believesthe next five years will be about the brands that can actually create a level of utility for the consumer.” He sees an era of increased personalization that requires different types of messaging not just by knowing your audience, but by media platform.

This is the ideal to be able to engage meaningfully and even specifically, but may feel overwhelming if you’re running your own business and trying to create at the same time. Something like being told to: “do everything, get to know everyone personally, and think outside the box.” However, taking a step back, it’s a way you should already be thinking. First, think in audience segments. What do you know that you can teach them? You can share information on new techniques, how to present, how to research, how to make a story or a piece of art extraordinary. Second, consider how others have shared that knowledge in the past? What new tools are there now, or new ideas you have for engaging them in a different way? What’s particular about your work, and are there specific times when that information can be most useful – at a particular time of the year, for special programming and events, in conjunction with trends or what’s happening in the news?

Third – and here it’s tougher – how can you learn enough about your customers, and how can you engage with them personally? Truthfully, you probably can’t if you’re thinking of them individually, but if you think in segments, you certainly can – and you can use different messaging, platforms and tactics to reach them. The trick is to break the message down in meaningful ways and then customize based on what you know about them.

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The Goldfish Dilemma: Social Tools

the-secret-social-media-lives-of-goldfish-comic--355c79d4a0©Mashable

I’m not sure how you measure the attention span of a goldfish, but those who know have determined that as of 2013, our average attention span is less (8 seconds) than that of your average goldfish (9 seconds).

Fortunately, Vine is within range with six-second video and Twitter, of course, keeping it brief with 140 characters. Web lore had it that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text and while that’s not necessarily the case, a team of neuroscientists from MIT recently found that the human brain can process entire images the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds.

There are many ways to tell your story to engage your audience with illustrations, data, video and text. Here are some free or reasonably-priced tools and some formats you can use for presentations and for social media:

  • Quotes Cover, www.quotescover.com, is easy to use to make a quote eye-catching for e-cards, wallpaper, prints, posters and social media. Just paste any quote into the toolbar, select fonts and colors, and design using the program’s drawing tools. Then you can share on social media or download the image.
  • Loupe, www.getloupe.com, lets you make a shaped collage using your photos.
  • Piktochart, http://piktochart.com, provides templates; an image gallery with icons, maps and charts; and editing tools to create appealing, searchable infographics. You can incorporate your own photos and art and, once you like it, you can link, embed, email or share it.
  • IMGFlip, https://imgflip.com/memegenerator, is an image generator that allows you to position one or two lines of text on top of a photo to make a meme that can then be shared.
  • Common Craft, http://www.commoncraft.com, uses cut out character videos to explain a broad range of complex processes simply, including: how we elect the U.S. President, plagiarism, how to prepare an emergency kit, and what augmented reality is all about. You can also download their cutouts and create your own how-to videos.
  • Tiki-Toki, www.tiki-toki.com, and Dipity, www.dipity.com, are tools to create illustrated timelines. Tiki-Toki also has a group version upgrade where you can create a timeline that then allows students or others to add to and interact with the timeline you’ve created.

Another visual technique that you can use to engage your audience is visual note-taking where you combine drawings, doodles and text to illustrate a concept or process. This can also work well for an online contest where fans submit an illustrated panel about an aspect of your book to show what they thought about as they read about an event or character.

These, along with YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest will provide opportunities for using images for creative branding. And, of course, keep in mind that using text is also good, given that the 8 second attention span we now have is only down from the 12 seconds reported for humans in 2000. Goldfish, I believe, remained constant given that they rarely use the Internet.

 

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