July 3, 2012

Lessons from a drag queen



Our very own diva, Cassidy
Live performers know that the best way to get the audience's engagement is to include them in the show, whether it's making them feel like a rock star when they sing along, asking them questions that they can answer with a cheer, or bringing them onstage to participate.

I saw this in action on Saturday night at Lips drag show in San Diego.

The emcee of the evening, Tootie, pulled out all the audience engagement tools, most notably humor (after all, it was a drag show). While, as emcee, it was her job to announce each performer and keep the evening on a tight schedule (ours was the early show; a second one followed) she also kept the audience engaged in between divas.

As bridal showers and birthday parties made up the bulk of the audience, these special audience members were incorporated into the show. They were invited onstage to share their name and the occasion they were celebrating, and each one got a photo with Tootie and another diva.

You can imagine this might go on for a while and become rather dreary. Who wants to see people you don't know onstage, looking embarrassed and repeating "It's my birthday" two dozen times?

But Tootie (who does this how many times a week?) still managed to keep things lively and fun. She had a joke for every guest, and while some of her patter was canned, she was good at thinking on her feet and being in the moment with each guest.

There was also an activity that involved several brides-to-be joining Tootie onstage for a "lesson." I won't go into detail, but the activity was funny without being humiliating. Hard to pull off sometimes in a sassy/snarky environment like a drag club.

The most impressive part of the evening (from the audience engagement perspective) was the break between performers for what I'm going to call the "shot pitch." At this point in the evening, dinner and drinks were winding down and, unless they bought dessert, there would probably be no more money spent.

At this time, Tootie pitched some fruity and refreshing-sounding $3 shots, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, to the crowd -- and made them sound like a great deal. And then in a brilliant bit of salesmanship, she asked each table, one by one, to call out their order. Out of all the people in the room, I only heard two (small) tables call out "none."

Peer pressure! But approached in a way that the audience participated out of a sense of fun and camaraderie rather than angst or guilt. I wish more Internet marketers understood upselling this well. Granted, most Internet marketers are upselling a product at the end of a mediocre and boring free teleseminar, not at the end of a dinner show.

Audience participation was key to keeping this show going full-tilt. Everyone could have sat in their seats the whole evening, passively watching the entertainment.

But when audience members get involved, we all feel a little more part of the show. And when you feel like you're part of the show, the show is going to be that much more enjoyable and memorable. And people will part with their money... so be ready to sell!

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