Part 1 of a several part series on 'Engagement'
FIRST AND FOREMOST LET ME STATE THAT THIS IS NOT MEANT AS A CRITICISM TOWARDS HOW OTHERS ARE DOING THEIR WORKSHOPS OR ENGAGING WITH PEOPLE.
Seems silly that I have to put the above caveat, but I know that due to my position as head of the AKA, my words carry weight, and it is a responsibility I take seriously.
This is the text that sits at the top of the screen when starting a blog post. It is grey and waiting to become something meaningful. Meant to be a place holder that encourages you to pick some set of words that would get the attention of your readers.
It is supposed to seem like a soft and inviting prompt, yet, it hits a nerve and makes me step back and take a deep breath. I get held up on that word... 'engaging'.
What is engaging?
There has been a long standing issue in the kite community (and many other communities honestly) on how to engage not only the current enthusiasts, but how to engage new people. This is something that resides in the core of my responsibilities as the head of a non-profit focused on kite flying (the American Kitefliers Association). How does the organization, the individual, the market better engage the people outside of our community? It is a big debate, one that has sparked off some very strong views about the best practices, who is doing what right, who is doing what wrong, and there is very little agreement on any of it. The plain and simple truth is that no one has really figured out the answer to the question of 'how do we engage more people with kite flying'.
I think that some of the problem with us not being able to find the answer lies in how we are framing the question, and how we are framing our expectation of the result. We frame the question in a way that says 'How do we engage more people with kite flying, so that they become kite fliers, and the kite community grows and we all benefit'.
Where I find issue with the above line of thinking is defining the word 'kite flier'. Is someone who flies a kite once in their life a kite flier, or is that a title only reserved for those that think about kite flying all the time and own a storage locker of rip-stop nylon and carbon sticks. Is someone a kite flier if they have their one kite and they go out and fly it on that one week a year they go to the beach, or is the term only for that person that books all of their travel around their kite flying. (Say... like Paul and myself, nearly all of our travel is for kite related reasons or we find ways to bring kites on all of our travels.)
Trying to engage with the person that is going to be the once a year flier is a completely different task than that of the lifetime flier, and this is perhaps where we keep falling short. As a community we keep seeking to make more people fall into the later group. We want them to be avid hobbyists, we want them to fall so passionately in love with this quirky little thing we do, and share in the joy we have. Perhaps it is to justify our own quirkiness, our own semi irrational love of a silly little thing. Perhaps to feel more connected with others around us.
I wish I could sit here and write about what tips and tricks I have for others to follow on how to be more engaging. What has worked for me is to be open and honest and do so with those around me. Being open to allowing others to try various experiments on how to engage people, then coming together and seeing if we can learn from each other, or even work in tandem. What I see happening at the Maker Faire events is completely different than what I see at kite festivals with a kids kite building table, but why does that difference exists? Is it based in the people attending, the people staffing the table, the kite being built, the location, or something else?
One of the big differences I see between how I run a kite building workshop at a Makers Faire and a free kids table at a kite event is the table itself. Be it the nature of how the kites get built, or because I am a generally active person, there is no sitting down. If the people approaching the booth are expected to be standing, so too should the people running the booth. It sounds harsh, but it is an old sales trick I learned working at trade shows. Having people standing and moving around at your booth is more engaging than having people sitting. Think about your local farmers market or street fair. The eye and the attention is naturally more attracted to movement and action. Perhaps this is a hold over from our instincts. Movement in the brush meant either a predator was watching us, or our next meal was waiting. Action means life.
I understand this is hard on the body, hard on the joints. After one day running a Maker Faire (about ~8 hours standing, bending down, squatting, etc...) I am sore and want to pour myself in bed. I am in my mid thirties and in fairly decent health, and still I find this taxing on my body. So I understand that this isn't something that everyone can do. What I encourage others to do then, is create some other sort of movement that will attract the eye. Be it fluttering flags, kites moving, a screen showing video of top kite videos.
Movement is critical. Too often I have walked by a kite making booth or a table for people to learn more about a kite club and it is a person sitting there staring off into the distance. Papers fluttering on the table. The wind blowing. Life happening, but the booth is quiet and the person is motionless. Even as an avid kite flier, I am not engaged with what is going on there, nor do I want to devote my attention to it.
Now, I walk through Pike Place market and watch a 25lb salmon fly through the air and land in the hands of a merchant, and BAM… you have my attention. I wasn’t interested in fish before walking past, but now I am watching that fish fly through the air, and I am thinking about how slippery fish are, and about how many times the guy has dropped the fish before he was allowed to throw it in front of these thousands of people, and about how I really like the taste of Salmon. Maybe I should get a piece while I am here.
The merchant had taken the time to lay out a beautiful display, but he wasn’t actively trying to sell to me with “hey you, buy this fish”. He caught my attention and engaged me in the fish buying process by watching a seemingly routine movement. (granted that movement is now amplified and now front and center in the faces of passersby vice behind the scenes). So, I try to be like the fish throwers of Pike Place. If I am not on my feet moving around the table helping others, then I am building or fiddling with some part of a kite. Something that people may not generally see, because people on a whole are generally curious by nature. If I can get them to look at me for a second (I don’t mean eye contact, I mean actually look at what I am doing) then I can engage with them.
To be continued.....
Stay tuned for another installment on random thoughts about 'Engagement'. If you have any ideas, or tips or tricks on things that have worked for you (doesn't have to be kite related) that have helped you engage with people to share your passion/hobby/sport/content etc... let me know. :) Send a message to kiteflyingpres @ gmail.com