(This article includes elements of a post in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series, “Leave Me Alone!”) (Actually, read “LEAVE ME ALONE” first, I’d forgotten this incident. But it fully explains all my frustrations about how we’re “supposed” to interact with visitors and potential customers.)
I know plenty of talented, experienced, act-like-adults artists who have strong opinions on how we should greet visitors to our studio, and how to talk with them.
Frankly, because of my own personal experience as a shopper/browser/highly-evolved hunter-gatherer, at stores, at fairs, at open studios, their suggestions make me want to scream. (But maybe not you, so go with what works for you, okay? The people who made them said it worked for them, so it may resonate with you as well.)
When I enter a store, especially one I’ve never been in before, the last question I want to hear 2 seconds after entering is, “May I help you?” Or, “Are you looking for something special today?”
I’m sure you hear this all the time, too. And what do you say in response? I’m betting it’s some version of, “No thanks, just looking.”
But even other questions can be annoying, or perplexing. One suggestion was, “Have you seen some good art today?”
Sounds okay, right?
Me? When someone has been interested in my work enough to come to MY studio, why on earth would I get them started talking about someone ELSE’S studio??
I asked the person about this and they said it worked for them. So if it appeals to you, go with it.
But here’s the thing. Now imagine that you’re at a show with hundreds of other exhibitors, or part of an open studio tour with the same. And every time you enter someone’s studio, they ask something similar. Even something as neutral as “How’s your day going?” gets frustrating after you’ve heard it twelve times in a day. (I hear silent screaming. Let me give you a minute. Okay!)
Other suggestions are similar, but all of them are, in one word, a distraction. Making idle chit-chat is not why they came to see us. (YES, we need to ask them where they’re from, or how they heard about us, and especially if they’d like to sign up for our newsletter/event notifications. But wait until you have a stronger connection with them first. Wait until they’ve explored a bit first. Why? Keep reading!)
When people enter a new space–a store, a show booth, a studio–they need a few seconds to land. They look in (at a booth) or around (in a store or studio) and figure out if it’s where they want to be. Give them those few seconds, before you pelt them with questions. (See examples below)
Bruce framed this approach as eliminating pressure. Visitors, customers, shoppers, don’t like pressure. Pressure can break every connection that is formed in those precious few seconds.
If we ask them that question about other people’s studios, about how their day is going, where they’re from, etc. please know that probably every other artist on the tour has asked them something similar.
If we ask them if they are looking for something in particular, or if they need help, or if they have any questions (they just got here!!), even why they chose to come to your studio, remember: These are either pointless questions, or coming too soon. They will say, “No thank you, just looking.”
If you were a store, they would look, and leave.
Instead, greet/welcome them. Introduce yourself and your work in one or two sententences. “Hi, I’m Luann, welcome! My work is inspired by prehistoric cave art. I make all my own artifacts that look like ivory, bone, shell, and stone.” Make a list of what you’d like to say, practice it so it feels second-nature, and keep it short.
I add, “It’s okay to touch things, pick them up, open drawers. Make yourself at home….”
Here comes the magical part. In his seminars, Bruce says there is one little word that turns everything around:
“….and if you have any questions, just let me know.”
If. IF. IF.
A powerful little word that turns that whole dynamic around.
It allows that maybe they won’t have questions, and that’s okay. It allows them to determine how they’re going to spend their time in our space. Signage can give them information that lets them go deeper into the “how” and the “why” behind our work. (More on signage coming up next!)
It removes the pressue.
They will say, “Thank you!” With enthusiasm. And they will dig in. (In a good way.)
Now, some visitors are out-going, and they pepper you with questions. Great!
Some visitors just want to look around first. Great! In fact, I use lots of signs in my studio, so people who aren’t ready, aren’t eager to talk with me, can still get answers to their questions. And if there’s someone asking me questions, everyone else will listen to my responses.
People are going to ask a lot of questions, and the simplest ones are about the “how”, the “where”, and the “what”. Be prepared! What is your process? What are your materials? Where do you get them? Where did you learn how to do this? and so on.
Over time, you’ll see a pattern of common questions. For me, it’s “What are these made of??” I don’t mind answering the same questions over and over, but some artists do. If that’s you, write up a succinct description of your process and inspiration, print them out, and frame them for visitors to read. (I use these frames, which are less than $4 each, but you can find them in smaller quantities, or split the pack with other artists if you don’t need 6 or 12.)
Even more powerful is sharing your creation story, the moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, and say. Here’s an article about how to find your creation story, and here, and why they matter.
You assignment is to do some deep thinking about you and your artwork. Then come up with a couple sentences to introduce yourself and your work.
Be ready for all the questions you’ll get, and direct people to your signage if you’re out of steam or simply engaged with another visitor in the moment.
The next article is about what people will do when they are ready for you to talk to them. And the danger of misinterpreting their intentions, which can blow you both out of the water. Stay tuned!
Questions? Comments? Happy to hear ’em! Remember, if you have a question, someone else probably does, too. So you’re not only helping me do better, you’re helping someone else!