The audience oath

In “Herd”, a book by the esteemed writer of B+A’s Bumper Book of Fun and Games, Mark Earls, one of our  favourite passages explores how to enlist people to interact directly to influence one another (for instance in an audience – where this peer-to-peer influence is so much stronger than anything we could transmit one-to-many from the stage).

It reminded me of something I saw years ago putting on a comedy festival when I was working at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. I held some events in the bar where there was a lot of background noise. One comedian (if my memory serves me right, it was Adam Bloom) dealt expertly with the noise by enlisting the collective power of the audience to influence one another (and it’s a trick Ben&Andrew still use). He just said into the mic:

“If you can hear me, say ‘shhh…’ “

The audience was given permission and empowered to take charge of the matter, and see their personal stake in helping the solution. The handful of people who were paying attention were enough to influence the rest of the crowd. They all shut up.

A little while ago, talking to Kenneth Tharp, CEO of London’s contemporary dance centre, the Place, he complained about the distraction of audience members using mobile phones to video performances, and how no appeals to the audience beforehand to stop this behaviour seemed to be working. He asked how he might find a more effective method of getting them to stop videoing and actually watch the performance.

Inspired by Mark Earls’ insights and my memory of Adam Bloom’s lesson at the ICA, I came up with “The Audience Oath”. Feel free to use it at any performance (or even adapt it to use at a business meeting) where you want a little focus. It worked for Kenneth at The Place; it could well work for you.