Dumbing it Down + Valuing Time

February 10, 2017

30 seconds to explain this concert
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A few months ago I was having drinks with a musician friend. Like most successful modern musicians, she has her hands in several entrepreneurial projects in addition to her work with more established organizations. Surprise, surprise: we ended up talking about building audiences for new projects. Specifically, we were talking about crafting messaging around a particular concert she had coming up.

I asked a question I often ask:

If you had 30 seconds to explain why someone shouldn't miss this concert, what would you say?

Her response was one I've heard many times: How could I possibly explain this concert in 30 seconds? I could talk for an hour about why we've chosen this music. People have written entire dissertations on some of these pieces. The new works on this program are just as profound as the historic pieces, so I can't sell them short either. Are you saying I should just dumb this down?

I'm saying just the opposite. A fabulous quote springs to mind:

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
—Blaise Pascal

[Actually, he wrote "Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte"...because, you know, he was a French guy in 17th century France writing to a French audience, but we'll leave that for now...]

It takes a major investment of time to reduce an idea to its essence. Even more time to empathize with another person's perspective and how that idea will resonate with them. Whether it's an elevator pitch, a letter, or some marketing copy, anyone who has had to do editing knows that short is not the same as simple.

Time is the most important thing our audiences give us. Time to read our emails, postcards, and blog posts (thank you very much). Time to attend concerts. The time it takes to earn the money they spend on buying tickets to our concerts (side note: when thinking about ticket prices, I like to imagine how many hours our target audience would need to work to pay for a particular ticket). Time to tell their friends about the concerts they've seen.

Time has always been scarce—and the competition for that time is only increasing. So when I think about describing a concert to a potential audience member, I try to ask myself: How am I valuing my audience's time—in describing the concert but also in the concert itself? 

I'll leave this thought here for now, but there's much more to be said about the value of audience time—and none of it involves dumbing anything down.