BLOG 14th September 2021

Do’s and Don’ts on the First Hangout

So you’ve passed the first impressions test! A new attendee has decided to visit your venue - job done! Or is it?

This year at thrive, we’re thinking about the stages in an audience development journey in the same way we would a person-to-person relationship. So what does that look like? Well, it means that making a good first impression on someone isn’t going to be enough to cement a relationship with someone new. They have to get to know you first, and like what they see before deciding they want to know more about you and hang out more. There’s a long road ahead to becoming BFFs! So, how do we take the second step in developing a relationship with someone? Taking the time to properly approach your new, shiny audience member doesn’t have to be rocket science - keep it simple, keep it light.

DO keep your atmosphere welcoming.

We all like someone who smiles a lot, right? It’s a universal symbol of friendly intentions and a physical display of happiness or contentment. Your venue should ‘smile’ for your audience from their first approach! This includes helpful extras including comfort items, appropriate, accessible signage and a welcoming face at the door:

  • Can you open your doors to the street for an inviting facade (weather permitting)?
  • Do you have sanitiser, cleaning materials and spare facemasks available for customers upon entering?
  • Do you have an area for refreshments for your visitor or a cafe with clear signage?
  • Are your toilets easy to find, or is there signage explaining where they are on arrival?
  • Do you have any free sanitary products on offer or a baby changing space available? If so - make this known to attendees through signage or on your website/event pages.
  • Are you comfortable with children visiting? Do you have a space for them to go with materials, colouring pencils or activity sheets or events for them to take part relating to what is happening in the space?
  • Do you have accessible materials available for visitors that are clearly signposted? (Audio loops/maps of space/unobstructed spaces/large text or audio guides for example?)
  • Do you have trained front of house staff who are friendly, welcoming and willing to go the extra mile to learn more about your visitor’s needs?

Every venue is different and will have different ways to authentically welcome a visitor to their space. It is often the little things that really pop for visitors, you would be surprised at what audience members will be touched by when arriving at the venue.

Special touches

There are hundreds of small ways to make your audience members feel special on their journey throughout your space. You could have a bowl of sweets offered to them upon arrival. Someone could collect their coat at the door if it’s raining and return it to them upon leaving. You could print out personalised welcome cards and have them waiting for them upon reaching their seat. Staff members could be allowed to use their discretion and listen out for telling clues, granting free tickets, coffee, or other small treats to audience members at your venue for a birthday or another special occasion. Offer to call a taxi for visitors in wet weather if staff have the time or let them borrow an umbrella especially for this purpose. Think carefully about each step of a person’s journey throughout your space and consider what you could do to make their arrival something to remember in the future.

DON’T police your space - keep it friendly and open.

Many cultural spaces have begun to conduct ‘relaxed’ performances in the past couple of years for a variety of events. This is a fabulous idea, which can really break down barriers to attendance for a whole variety of people. This ethos can be useful to consider when thinking about new audiences visiting your venue for the first time. Trust your audiences to respect your space and cultivate an atmosphere of respectful understanding in return. This warmth can go a long way to bringing a visitor back to your space:

  • Don’t punish your audiences for being late to an event - these things happen! Perhaps a member of staff can be on hand to direct latecomers to an appropriate space in the venue before being led to a seat - a television set up in an area linking to the performance is a perfect manner to facilitate this.
  • Expect mess occasionally and plan for these instances. Perhaps a child will drop something messy in your space - have you planned for this? Do your staff know how to approach such instances with humour? Don’t set up your audiences to fail - if a show or exhibition is particularly fragile, make visitors aware of this upon arrival in a friendly manner.
  • Are you considering your audiences’ needs when booking? Perhaps someone is sick in the group attending - do they get a refund? Is this appropriately signposted on your sight?
  • Don’t crowd new visitors when they arrive. Invest time in training your front of house staff on reading a room. Some visitors like to chat when they arrive, but many would prefer to be left alone after a brief hello.

Remember, audiences are people just like you. They have accidents, they have lives - traffic accidents can occur, they could be held up at work, they could be unwell. There are plenty of reasons that your audience may not be arriving in the right mood to attend. Try and plot your responses to all the little irritants that life can throw at your visitors and solve the problem as they step in the door. These little touches of understanding will stand your venue in good stead for developing lasting relationships with your audience.

After the event

You’ve done it! Your new audience member had a great time at your space and are now home after enjoying all that you have to offer. What happens now? Imagine you have had a wonderful time with a new friend and you’re eager to repeat the experience again. Perhaps you would send a text thanking them for meeting with you and offering to meet again sometime? Extend the same courtesy to your new audience member! Perhaps you could send them a ‘thank you’ email, automated to send out to new attendees via your ticketing system. Maybe they have spoken about you on social media - keep the conversation going! Reshare images on Instagram stories and respond to tweets mentioning your name, thanking them for coming - this is a great opportunity to inform them of a similar event coming up soon. Make the most of these opportunities with your audiences and you’ll soon reap the rewards of all your hard work.

This work is supported by our annual funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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