Twice in the last month I’ve had occasion to be sitting in an audience, listening to a keynote address. Once at the SCBWI regional meeting a few weeks back. And again this past weekend when I attended a foodie event in D.C. featuring some Food Network celebrity chefs.
And lest you think, wow, that Kristen is livin’ large with all her conference/special event attending, I’ll just tell you that these two events were the only times in the last year that I was out for more than, like, 90 minutes. Seriously. The Junior Mint and his older sisters don’t often let me up for air. And to be honest, the only reason I went to either event was that my husband forced me to get out of the house and not come back for several hours or else he’d give me a whack with a pair of nunchuks.
So here’s the lesson I learned while at these two events: likeability -- you either gots it or you’re sunk. And if you don’t gots it, you better pray that I’m not in the audience with a laser pointer.
We’ll start with the keynote speaker at the SCBWI event, Han Nolan. She was fabulous.
Well, for one thing, she knew her audience. You know how we writers are. We’re a wretchedly envious lot, and here we’ve got this National Book Award winner, talking to us about perseverance. It would be very easy to alienate people in this situation because you’re basically going to tell them: “Here’s why I am so successful, and you may never be.”
But she was so human and likeable, and her stories were so relatable for any aspiring writer that she had the whole room groaning along with her as she told us about her early trials and tribulations. The one story I most remember was how she got a review for her debut that was so bad, she was certain her publisher was going to cancel the print run for her book as a result. Within five minutes, she had us all rooting for her. The hour flew by. She left me feeling inspired.
Now to my other example--the foodie event.
There I was, beaten-down mother of four who gets to go out about once every ten weeks, sitting in the D.C. Convention Center, anxiously awaiting a Certain Food Network Celebrity Chef, and the emcee says, “Before we bring out the person you’ve actually paid to see, I’d like to introduce a woman who’s going to talk about stuff you’re not interested in!”
Well, that’s what the emcee should have said because that’s what we got. This woman was basically the human equivalent of a pop-up ad.
Who was this person?
I’ll tell you who she was. She was trying too hard. She was rambling on and on about … what? Something about her website? No idea. I know she told some self-congratulatory story about having Martha Stewart over to her house for dinner and how it went so well despite how nervous she was. (I mean, who hasn’t been there, right?) After about 30 seconds, I began tuning her out, and the more she talked, the more I wished I’d brought a laser pointer so that I could shine it in her face.
Not that I would do that or advocate doing that because it’s childish and also illegal.
(OK, maybe I’d do it, like, once. But then I’d put the laser pointer away and pretend I didn’t know what security was talking about if they asked me, “Ma’am, did you just shine a laser pointer into that woman’s face?"
And I’d be all, “What! How dare you insinuate that I look like the kind of woman who would shine a laser pointer in someone’s face? I mean really. I’m the mother of four kids, for heaven’s sake.”)
Yeah, needless to say, this speaker had ZERO likeability. Not for a moment did I think she understood what her audience wanted nor did I believe she really cared. We were there for her, not the other way around, and she left me feeling like my time had been wasted. And that, my friends, makes me very, very cranky.
So an interesting comparison and yet another important reminder for when you’re writing: you need to create empathy, be sincere, and above all, know your audience if you really want to get your story across effectively.
I should be patted down at every conference I attend to make sure I’m not packing a laser pointer.
I really do need to get out more.
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