The Scent Of An Audience

Mar 21, 2013

Spring is in the air. And in my neck of the woods here in Northeast, Tenn., that means the air is filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of 150,000 race fans. The smell of a thousand grills filled with every food you can imagine is truly mouth-watering. And if you have never attended a NASCAR race you are missing out on one of the most amazing entertainment events in the world. For two weekends a year the area surrounding Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn., turns into one massive tailgate party, campout, and racing event. Fans come from all 50 states, countries from around the world, and every walk of life to attend the world's fastest half mile track. It is mind blowing to watch that many people together in one place for a single event. But what can 150,000 race fans teach us about connecting with people during a live event?

Seven years ago, through some obvious error in the talent screening department, I was asked to be an MC and Entertainment Captain for the four big jumbotrons located inside the track at Bristol. We started out by interviewing a few fans live on the screens and recording some segments that would provide additional content over the course of a racing weekend. This has grown into a multi-day relationship with sponsor partnered giveaways, fan powered trivia game shows, and taped pre-race events, all to give the guests in the stands an entertainment event that rivals anything else they have experienced. We go out into the campgrounds and find the best campsite complete with prizes, interviews, and even a sampling of their grillmasters creations. We spend time interviewing kids who are visiting the race for the first time and share their stories with the crowd. All of these experiences are a way to replace canned commercials with real-time fan interaction.

So how can you best serve up content to hundreds of thousands of race fans? And what has been the secret to success for tracks like Bristol Motor Speedway who have embraced live experiences? The answers are the same for anyone presenting to a live audience. Whether you are presenting to an individual, a board room with eight executives, 50 participants at a workshop, or hundreds of thousands of sports fans. Check out this simple secret for audience engagement and I guarantee your next live event will have people on their feet until the checkered flag flies.

It's all about your audience and knowing who they are.

It's easy to step onto a stage and talk about you, your company, and your product. Audiences are underwhelmed every day by talking heads and marketing machines. The moment you fall into the same routine that you have done 50 times before is the same moment that the people in front of you will realize that you only care about yourself. A group of people can sense in an instant whether you really care about them or you are just going through the motions. The best presentations, performances, and events begin long before the viewers take a seat.

The top tier of NASCAR the Sprint Cup Series hosts 40 events throughout the 2013 season at 26 different tracks. With only one or two events a year most racetracks spend an entire season working on how to give their fans the most exciting event possible. Thousands of staff and volunteers spend countless hours figuring out who the fans are, where they come from, what they expect, and how to make their single experience with that facility something memorable.

The most important thing you can do before your next live event is get to know, intimately, who you are speaking with. How many people are you speaking with? What college did they attend? What do they like to cook? What do they like to do in their free time? How important is this event to them? Do they know who you are? What are their expectations for the event? The more questions you can answer about them, their lives, and their personalities, the better you can prepare to give them exactly what they are looking for.

Before we interview anyone we spend time finding out what their story is and how we can best share that with others. If it's a driver or celebrity we spend days or even weeks figuring out what they are working on and what the fans would most like to hear or see from them. The winner of the fall race at Bristol, #11 Denny Hamlin, had played a certain song during his driver introduction. During our post-race winners' toast we had the DJ cue up that very song and got him to dance on stage with us and all the fans. It was a perfect moment for him and the fans. Shut down your sales and marketing for a moment and spend time thinking about who they are, what they are doing, and what they hope to achieve. This one exercise can radically change how you approach preparing for any event. Know your audience, realize that this event is all about them, and you are already halfway there.

So the next time you prepare to step onto a stage, whether it's an internal presentation to your boss or in front of thousands of people, make sure you know exactly who you are talking to and what they want to hear. Now if you will please excuse me, I have to go do some research in the campgrounds and find out what Fuzzy and Tadpole are cooking for dinner. Whatever it is, it smells amazing.