I resolve this new year, two-thousand and fifteen, to use words with meaning.
As in, not to use words without the idea that is being represented by the aforementioned word.
As in, not to use words to describe something and then not do it.
As in, to attempt to mean what I say and say what I mean.
In the early Fall of 2014, Rachel and I were crafting a 2.0 version of our National Arts Marketing Project pre-conference (Playing in the Deep End of Audience Engagement) and she asked what I thought we needed to cover this year that we did not cover the previous. I love these conferences and the way they bring people together, but for me, industry conferences can also be a hotbed of jargon.
Merriam Webster.com (the source from which this except was Print Scrn’d from above) goes on to define jargon as:
- confused unintelligible language
- a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect
- a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech
- the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group
- obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words
In my opinion, jargon is a poison. Once the word crosses the threshold into jargon, it is almost certain it will not be able to recover its soul, its authenticity, or its respect in the eyes of those who employ the use of the word. It will suffer a fate similar to terms such as “buy-in,” “synergy,” and “best practices. ” It loses its actual meaning, and is therefore subject to empty usage. This is my fear for the term Audience Engagement.
Type this term into Google and you’ll get 13,600,000 results, ranging from the WolfBrown study Making Sense of Audience Engagement, to articles on blogs with titles like “Innovation Insider” and “Life Business Integrity dot com” where they show you 12 Powerful Audience Engagement Tools (which are actually all just different kinds of survey platforms), to word clouds that include “value” and “brand” and “follow.” This to me is a broad (but accurate) representation of how Audience Engagement is viewed in the arts field — some really digging in to make sense of this term, engaging in critical thought and discussion about it, and some tweeting a link to buy tickets and ticking off their “audience engagement” counter.
It is hard to take jargon seriously — easy to tack jargon on to the end of a business plan or grant report to appear impressive to a panel of experts.
My fear is that Audience Engagement, real, authentic, face-to-face interactions and reciprocal conversations with audience members, is becoming an effort that is hard to take seriously and easy to talk big about.
All that I am asking is that you really dig in, make sense of what Audience Engagement means for your organization or your art form. How can you make it feel true to you and what you’re doing? What are small steps you can take to not just release content, but create dialogue and conversation? See beyond your outputs?
Melanie Harker is a conspirator with dog & pony dc, as well as Rachel Grossman’s sidekick. You can see her musings @MelanieGwynne on twitter.