The formula for a good audience


 When it comes to audiences what is it that makes us performers glow?

I am up to nearly 170,000 YouTube views for my 21st Century Enlightenment talk. Actually the overall number isn’t the most important thing (it’s hard to work out how much more satisfying 170,000 should feel than 120,000). More exciting is when the rate of viewing has a little spike – as it did a few days ago. I also get a thrill from the global distribution of viewers; I like the idea that there are people watching my talk in South Africa and Russia. And the fact that so many people bother to rate and comment (and that most of them are kind) is almost embarrassing.

Late yesterday afternoon I did a short interview (in a personal capacity) for the PM programme about my good friend David Miliband. Listening later to the Champions League, while cooking pasta for my sons, I was surprised to hear a clip of my interview in the main Radio 5 news bulletin.

I really enjoy being on Radio Four’s Moral Maze. There is a different subject every week, the programme is broadcast live and I have to argue with clever and sometimes hostile guests and panellists.  But, although I understand it is seen as a successful and popular programme I rarely meet anyone who listens to it.

The season before last, on Match of the Day, there was a close up of Adrian Chiles watching the Albion and guess who was sitting next to him? My sons’ mates and the boys in the team I manage were dead impressed.

I wasn’t really looking forward to my talk to the Independent School Heads conference on Tuesday. But the moment I stood up I felt that release from everyday worries that sometimes comes with performing. At the end the thirty RSA pamphlets I had taken went in a second and I took away ten business cards from people wanting more.  

The point of all this – apart from offering me an opportunity to talk about myself in glowing and lengthy terms (‘you don’t usually need an excuse’ I can hear my dear mum saying) – is that it got me asking; what it is about audiences that gives performers a buzz?

Positive psychologists have a happiness formula H = S + C + V (happiness (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities (V) that you do).

But what about an audience buzz formula? What would be the factors? There are three obvious audience characteristics: size (S), quality (Q) and level of appreciation (A).

But there are also performer criteria: pride in the performance (P), the performer’s emotional need for affirmation (EN), and other benefits of the performance [most obviously cash but also whether it helps win an argument etc] (OB)

So the basic formula for how much satisfaction a performers gets from an audience is this: AS = S + Q + A + P + EN + OB. This means my perfect gig would be to be paid a great deal of money to make a speech on prime time TV to a studio audience of highly appreciative senior educationalists proving Michael Gove definitively wrong about the curriculum despite the fact that I feel really bad about myself as a person.

Of course, the hard bit (which will differ from person to person) is the weighting we attach once we get into trade offs. An obvious example being: is it better to make a risky speech (high P) even though it may get a less good reaction (lower A).

Perhaps this is all completely inane and obvious. But please – lots of you talented readers - tell me it is fascinating and made you smile. You see, I’ve had a rotten week and deep down I’m very insecure…

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Related articles