NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation
How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY
Yet still she persisted….
The moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, say.
(4 minute read)
Last week, I shared how introverts can shine in the world, thanks to email art marketing newsletters.
Today, I had a long article planned. But, lucky you! I realized it was about two different topics I had squished into one:
Your Most Important Story of All
Before we get to suggestions about this, let’s talk about the most important topic of all of this:
The Story of YOU.
Here’s the biggest obstacle when it comes to every aspect of marketing and selling our art:
Sooooo many people don’t know their own story!
Let’s back up a little. There are two powerful stories in every creative person.
The first is what I call the ‘creation story’.
The second is our artist statement, which I’ll tackle next week. Because it helps to know your creation story first.
What’s the difference?
Your creation story marks your first step, the moment you knew you were meant to be an artist. It’s that aha moment when we realized we had to be an artist. The moment where we completely embrace what we want, regardless of whether we even know how, or why. It’s the point in your life where your deepest intention occurred.
Dave Geada, FASO’s marketing guru, talks about this story in almost every webinar I’ve watched so far. He phrased it perfectly: After a near-death experience, he vowed to live his life with intent. With INTENTION. I’ve called it our “hero’s journey story” for years, and Dave calls it that, too. (Whew! I love it when the experts and I are on the same page!)
That’s what your first step was: Your intention to make your art. Here’s mine. It’s what made me take the leap, and it still resonates with me today.
Unlike your artist statement, it doesn’t have to be public (though there are ways to modify it so it can, so don’t rule that out.)
You DO have to know it. Because once you realize it, it will provide the foundation of everything you do, write, make, talk about, going forward with your artwork. It will ground you when you are lost. It will reassure you when you are discouraged. It will lift you up when life gets hard.
Knowing it will help you lift others, too. Because when we speak our truth, it not only resonates with others, it can inspire them to see theirs.
Years ago, I created a workshop designed to help people write their artist statement. It was powerful, and eye-opening. I got to hear how several dozen people got their start, and why. My favorite was the artist who started with, “I had a baby. I nearly died. Everything changed…” I exclaimed, “THAT’s your artist statement!” What I meant was, this was the foundation of her artist statement.
To frame this better: That may or may not be what she decides to use, publicly. But it was that point in time where “everything changed.” It would inspire her artist statement, however she chose to frame it. It was her creation story, it was powerful, and she knew it.
Another great creation story was one I’ve written about before, which illustrates that our creation story will evolve. It’s about long-time artist who lost their sight late in life—and everything changed. Did they stop making? Nope. But it’s different, now. Because everything changed. But it was compelling enough for me to go back to that ‘weird crappy’ piece of “art” hanging on the gallery wall, and find something beautiful in it. Courage. Perseverance. Letting go of what was, and embracing the new ‘what is’.
Your homework: What is your creation story? Write it out, if only for your private use.
If you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!
Sharing may seem like bragging. But it isn’t, and here’s why…
(6 minute read)
In last week’s post, I shared some of the basics of creating an email newsletter about our art. In the articles ahead, we’ll explore them, and address our fears/doubts/am-I-doing-it-wrong moments.
One person shared their own fear: What if I sound like a narcissist?
This one was easy: If you’re worried about sounding like a narcissist, then you aren’t a narcissist. Because a true narcissists doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong! They truly believe they are better than everyone else in the world, and don’t understand why that bothers other people.
But I get that this might be a big concern for many of us, especially those who were subtly (or blatantly) encouraged not to be “too much” in our culture: Don’t brag. Don’t show off. Be quiet. Keep out of the spotlight. Be humble. Be all this, to the point of making ourselves so small, we can barely breathe.
I also believe this is why so many of us find doing our own art marketing so hard. We’ve incorporated those ancient beliefs that tooting our own horn is just not ‘nice’. We wish someone else would do it for us.
And so many artists end up not doing it at all.
Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between bragging, and self-confidence. And self-confidence is healthier than self-denigration!
Like any other skill in life, practice helps. Start with a short little newsletter to your audience. Pick one thing that’s going on with you in your artist life this month/week/day.
Let’s start with that ‘talking to a good friend’ analogy I mentioned in last week’s article.
Imagine you have a meet-up with a person you really like, and they really like you, and you haven’t seen them for a while, what would you talk about?
HOW would you talk?
Would it be a monologue? Would it only be about the stuff you’re proud of? Would your intention be to make yourself bigger than/better than your friend? Because bragging is a way to make other people feel less-than.
Or would you share your successes and breakthroughs in manageable “bites”, with gratitude for your good fortune, with joy for what you’ve accomplished, knowing they will be genuinely happy for your success?
If you were working on a new project, and it didn’t work out the way you intended, would you only complain about everything that went wrong? Whine about all the people who made it worse? Blame your shortcomings on others?
Or would you make it into a funny story that makes you both giggle? Or share how you worked through the hard parts and found a way through, knowing your friend would be happy you did?
Do you strive to present the “perfect life”, like a social media ‘influencer’, carefully editing out anything that would mar your dream world? (If so, you’d better treat your friend to their meal.)
Or would you go back and forth, sharing the ups and downs, checking in with them about what they’re up to, how their getting through, and sharing what’s worked for you that MIGHT work for them, too?
I’ve read some newsletters that truly brag, the sender actively applauding themselves, congratulating themselves on how amazing they are, how talented, how rich, etc.
Bragging implies that rewards, success, wealth, and influence are a finite ‘pie’. And if their share of the pie is huge, that means there’s less for everyone else.
But what if we simply acknowledging our gifts: The skills we’ve worked hard to acquire. The time we’ve carved out for ourselves, to make this work.
What if we let people have a peek into our life: Share our creative process. How we get our ideas? How we know when a piece is ‘done’? What if we thank the people who have supported our work by purchasing it?
That’s not ‘bragging’. That’s owning our own life, honoring our unique journey. Achieving what we’ve practiced and prepared for. Sharing our dreams and goals.
We get to do that.
We can share how we get ‘set back’, and how we found the courage to move forward again. It will encourage someone else to find their courageous heart, too.
We can tell how we got stuck somewhere in our latest project, and how we found our way through. It will let others know there are always things that get in the way, and help them not be discouraged, too.
We can write about something funny and charming that happened, and it will make someone else smile, too.
Acknowledging our gifts and being genuinely grateful for them is not evil. Self-confidence is not evil. There are ways to let people know that EVERYONE has a gift. This one just happens to be yours.
The pie is infinite. And if our slice is huge, that means there’s plenty for everyone else, too.
I love this paragraph from an article I found while checking my own assumptions about bragging vs. self-confidence today:
“That’s one reason many of us don’t like to show off. We live in a highly competitive world, and we don’t want someone else to feel badly just because we’re feeling good. But sometimes that concern stops us from sharing good things that our friends, families and colleagues would actually like to know. And of course, in the workplace, there’s a fine line between showing off and genuinely outlining accomplishments that can help you move forward professionally.”
(F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.)
“Don’t let that concern stop you from sharing good things….” Yep, there’s my entire column today in 20 words or less.
Granted, a newsletter can feel like a one-sided conversation. But it really isn’t. It’s a way of sharing aspects of our life that people wouldn’t otherwise see. Letting others in on that is courageous. Powerful. And good.
So once more, with feeling: Imagine someone who wants the best for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, and what you do. Someone who has found joy in your work, and wants to see/hear/learn MORE about what we’re up to.
Write them a letter.
Then sit back and let the magic of authentic connection, grow.
Next week, I’ll share some ideas of what to write about. In the meantime, if you’ve already found your ‘happy place’ with your newsletters, share some of your insights. Other people will be so grateful! If you’ve received a newsletter from someone else, and it spoke to you, share a) what it was that made you feel connected, and b) how it could work for YOU.
And last, if you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.
Luann Udell, artist/writer
“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient art.”
The ultimate in customer care creates powerful connection—and a great reputation!
(7 minute read)
When we left NH going-on-six-years-ago, I also left behind one of the biggest sources of my art biz income: The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair.
It’s a highly-respected show, lasting 9 days in early August. I loved it and dreaded it. Love: Great attendance, returning collectors, meeting up with friends near and far, and solid sales. Dread: It took me three entire days to set up my booth, it could get super hot (yes, it gets hot and HUMID in New England!), and nine days is a looooong fair. Also, storms and high winds can trample attendance. (One tiny gift of the shut-down is that this Fair will be a virtual event this year, and I can participate again. I’m ‘tenured’!)
And the first day usually brought a small wave of items brought to me by collectors, to be repaired.
That can feel daunting!
Over the years, I’ve had to repair a small wall hanging (minor), replace a broken sculpture (major!), and restring/repair/replace broken/damaged/lost jewelry. (Painters are lucky! Do paintings routinely get damaged, and repaired??)
In addition to my embarrassment of having a piece of jewelry breaking in use, some customers (not all!) take on (from experience!) a build-up of indignation. “It just broke!” some would exclaim, even though we all know things don’t just sit there and break.
It’s instinctive to react with indignation. We know we put a lot of work into our…er, work… But let’s not make the situation worse.
Instead, consider WHY they are coming on strong. (This insight was transformative for me!)
It’s because they are afraid you will either a) blame them; b) denigrate them for the damage; c) charge them for repairs; or even d) refuse to deal with them, and tell them to buy another one. (I’ve heard stories of some artists doing all combos of these reactions. I’ve experienced some of this myself, as a collector/buyer. It’s pretty awful.)
So they will build up a head of steam to get through the anticipated push-back.
What does this have to do with marketing our art?
How we handle this will affect our reputation, and possibly our sales, in many ways.
First, if we sell online, there are almost always opportunities to leave reviews on our purchases. An unhappy customer will probably not leave a stellar review. Of course, not all bad reviews are justified, but setting that aside for now as a subject for another day….
Even more importantly, we hope a happy collector will spread the word about our work. But an unhappy customer will definitely spread the word even further. Not just online, but in person, to their friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and anyone else who will listen, for years to come. Especially if we react badly right off the bat.
Last, when this happens on opening day at the Fair (or any event), usually a lot of other people are listening. How you handle this speaks volumes to them, literally and figuratively.
Here’s how I got to my happy place with all these encounters:
I realized the main problem with my jewelry (which is what most of these situations involve) happened because people loved my work so much, they never took it off.
Some people wore them in hot tubs, where the chemicals involved actually eat the plastic that polymer clay is made of.
Some people wore them in the shower, which is not good for leather cord.
Some people wore them to bed, where the risk of tangling and ‘catching’ on something could break a chain.
Some people soothed themselves with the artifact pendants—holding, bending, (there’s a bit of flex in thin polymer pieces) until it broke.
Sometimes people’s dogs snagged a chain, or (even as I speak today) new puppy chewed on an artifact.
Sometimes a partner buys a gift that lands wrong for the recipient.
Sometimes a cat knocks over a sculpture that shatters.
But in every case—in every single case—these people loved and cherished these items. And they were, at heart, afraid they would never get them back.
Once I recognized their pain and uncertainty, once I learned to see the anxiety behind their initial presentation, I could call on sympathy, on patience, even on pride that my work was so valued.
Here’s how I manage these incidents:
First, reassuring collectors that you care, can work small miracles right at the start. So I always meet these set-backs with kindness and sympathy. “I’m so sorry! I will fix this for you.”
It takes repeating and staying calm and grounded. But eventually, even the angriest (most defensive, usually) customer will hear me, and relax.
I explain what I may have to do: Repair the item, or replace it, and still find a way to return the original to them, if possible/
Once they realize they were being met with consideration and empathy, even the most assertive collector will relax. They know I will take care of them.
Only when we get here, to this place of safety for them, do I gently question what happened. I frame it as gathering information for me, helping me make my work better.
Then I listen, without judgment, and they open up. (That’s how I learned about the flexing, the hot tub, the broken chain, etc.)
In the case of a thin horse artifact caressed to the breaking point, I realized I had to make my animal artifacts thicker and sturdier. So I thanked the collector for sharing what happened, and for giving me this new insight. (I repaired and remade the “thin” horse into a pin, and made a thicker but almost-identical new horse for their necklace.)
For doggie uh-ohs, I’ll ask if they need a sturdier chain, or a leather cord instead. For the broken sculpture (one of my earliest) pushed over by a cat (DARN YOU, KITTY), I realized I’d used a shorter firing time, which made it more brittle—good information to have! (I told them how to repair it, AND sent a replacement.) Boy, I was grateful to learn that lesson, before I made more!
For a lost earring, I usually replace it at no cost the first time. The second time with the same set, I charge half the original price. (Yup, I had a customer who lost an earring three times! Because…she loved them, and wore them every day.) I also sometimes offer to change out the ear wires for lever backs, which are more secure.
See the gift here?
By reframing their experience, their loss, their (unintentional) damaging habits, their fear of being ‘blamed’, their fear of not having something they love, by seeing it as just this—their dismay at the loss of my work, which they love—I’ve not only kept a loyal collector….
I’ve improved my work.
And I’ve strengthened my reputation as a maker who stands behind my work.
I demonstrate my integrity, not just in the face of the best circumstances, but in the worst—when it really counts.
In this world of multi-billionaires, of the growing class of 1%-ers, of incredibly wealthy companies and people who will do anything to stay wealthy and take care of their own, at the expense of everyone else, integrity can be a rare commodity.
And once lost, it can be really hard to get back.
We can learn to see. To see our collectors as people who have put their faith in our art, who treasure it, who love it, and hate to lose it, even to their own accidental actions.
And we can help them see us as artists whose value and character don’t stop at the purchasing point. They can see us as people whose work is not just ‘worth buying’, but ‘worth having’ in their lives, for as long as possible.
Next week, we’ll talk about return policies, and how they can protect us from those (hopefully very few!) customers who abuse that privilege, in a way that benefits both us and our customer. But for now, if you have a story about how you transformed a difficult customer service issue into a positive (and powerful) one, share in the comments. It helps to know we are not alone when this happens. And it helps to see the long-term benefits of honoring those who collect—and support—the work of our hearts.
If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!
SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?
WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?
WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All
Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art: Examine Our Assumptions
SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!
I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)
There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.
In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)
My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!
Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.
Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:
When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….
Because other people are listening!
I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.
As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms. We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.
For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)
But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.
If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)
I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette. How I talk about it.
I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.
And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:
They look even deeper at my work.
Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)
They often buy something, too.
That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.
Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) 
I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)
I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:
“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”
And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”
Why is this so appealing?
I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.
And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???
This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.
And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.
But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!
They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)
It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.
So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.
Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.
Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)
And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.
If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.
Footnote:  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org I assure you they are worth every penny!
It is the fourth time I’ve moved my studio in four years, and we also moved our home twice times in four years. I’m a lit-tul bit exhausted. But I think I see some light at the end of the tunnel!
There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!
Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.
Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.
First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.
We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.
We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.
The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.
But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.
They said, “How are you today?”
I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.
So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.
The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)
And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.
They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”
Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!
I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”
Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.
Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.
Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.
And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.
Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.
And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:
“How are you today?”
“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”
“Are you enjoying the show?”
Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:
“How many years have you been coming to this show?”
“How did you hear about this event?”
“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)
By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.
What’s a better way to engage a visitor?
Don’t pressure them.
After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)
When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.
Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”
Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.
And so they dig in, and start looking.
Then I shut up and go back to work.
“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.
This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”
For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)
So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.
Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.
Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.