I attended a media event for a successful and growing entertainment company today.
The presentation was given by a number of talented directors, and showed the company’s slate of current and upcoming projects. In the audience was a gathering of highly evolved creative super-people: animators, concept artists, story developers, producers, sound designers, and creative directors.
It was both interesting and inspiring. I could barely work the rest of the day, as I reflected, thought, and dreamed about what I had seen and heard. I found myself wondering if I could think up ideas and present them as well as these creative people could.
That’s when I realized something that had been rattling around in my head for awhile. It’s a realization that has slowly developed in my mind over my years toiling away as a creative person.
It’s something that I have come to realize separates the ordinary artist from the highly successful artist…the unknown creative cog from the recognized creative lynchpin. It’s an essential ingredient for maximizing your creative potential.
You probably didn’t see much of a need to develop it because it wasn’t stressed in your academics. No art school makes a course out of it that I know of.
That skill is communication.
While communication has no bearing on the actual quality or craftsmanship of your art, it has everything to do with how effective your art is.
Your ability to speak, talk, write, tweet, blog, and shout is the catalyst that kicks your art into high gear, spreads it to the masses, and puts it in people’s minds, walls, desktops, and mobile devices.
The artist can no longer afford to ensconce himself indefinitely and quietly toil away at his craft, avoiding all human contact. In the always-on, ever-connected world we live in, to go silent is to declare bankruptcy.
What? Isn’t art itself communication?
Yes, at the very heart of it, art is communication. But I’m sorry to say that while many may think otherwise, your art is probably not good enough on its own. You won’t be able to create a stupendous work, post it on your site or hand it over to a middleman, and wait for the checks to come rolling in. You will have to do something in addition to creating the art to get people’s attention.
To ignite the tinder that is your art, you will need to light it, gently blow on it, coax it to life, and guide it to the roaring inferno that will be your rewarding creative career.
How many times have you tried to speak with people about what you do, and find yourself at a loss for words?
I sure have.
After all, isn’t the creating of the art the most important thing? The end result of all that dreaming, training, and preparing? The rest should be unimportant, right?
Because in this noisy world, which is flooded with every kind of imagery, it’s not enough to settle for creating stuff. You have to create stuff, then talk about it. A lot.
In fact, many think that you should spend just as much time marketing your art as you do making it. While marketing involves a lot of other things than just verbal communication, it is a big part of it.
For many artists, this is an unwelcome wake-up call. Because sometimes we like nothing better than to shut out the world, go into our happy place, and paint, sketch, draw, color, sculpt, compose, and write to our heart’s content. We don’t want the outside world invading the sanctity of our creative space.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’re a hobbyist.
But if you actually want to be a pro, and make a living from your work, you will have to learn how to be a good communicator.
Five Tips On Communicating About Your Art
There are several ways that you can begin immediately incorporating better communication into your creative career. They don’t go in any particular order. Choose one, that sounds good to start with, and begin to work on it. You will see quick and exciting results to your sales as well as your sense of satisfaction with your art.
- Extend your art to include communication
- Focus on the audience first, yourself second
- Learn how to be a good storyteller
- Write and practice your Artist’s Elevator Pitch
- Reject the Rejectors and Move On
Extend Your Art to Include Communication
You already know and use the artistic principles of harmony and unity. It’s time to think of communication as simply an extension of your art. Your art career is the whole, and the mechanics of your art’s creation is just a part of that whole. The communication is another part.
In order to have a unified art career, and live in harmony with yourself, you will need to be able to comfortably articulate your message. Otherwise, you will live a very lopsided life as an artist. You may have told yourself in the past that this is okay. Or, you may have seen others do so, and they seemed successful, and it was no big deal.
I’m telling you that it is a big deal, and very important. Don’t romanticize the notion of the poor artist, suffering in silence with only a single thread of connection to the rest of the world – the thread being the creative work that trickles out of his hermitage. Don’t contribute to the image of the brooding, unreachable creative who listens to vaporous muses nobody else can see. This only alienates people who want to be your fans.
Instead, make a commitment to learn the skill of communication. It takes practice, and awkwardness is unavoidable. You will just have to give yourself permission to be a little awkward until you get better at it. Practicing with supportive friends or family can go a long way to giving you the opportunities to iron out your speaking abilities.
And you know what? As you begin to learn to talk more freely, you will feel free inside. You will let out that artist inside that felt locked up all that time, not knowing what to say. As a result, you will begin to feel more confident, more fulfilled, and more alive as a member of a community.
Learn How To Be A Good Storyteller
The Art of the Story (of the Art)
Storytelling is an ancient method of communication, probably the oldest. It certainly was important in the old days, as it could mean the difference between life and death for the listener – the stories carried not just moral lessons but lessons on survival in a harsh world.
While modern-day storytelling is not quite so vital to survival, it is quite important, and a means to connect to another human being in a personal way.
But instead of telling your story with the other person as the passive listener, bring them into the story. Think of it as a way to invite them into your work. You will find yourself looking them in the eye earnestly when you do so, and they can’t help but to be drawn in.
Study and listen and watch good storytellers. Read articles about storytelling. Here’s one on Behance that’s great: http://99u.com/articles/7229/want-your-message-to-stick-tell-a-story.
Or, for the more visual learner, here’s a great infographic: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/11/a-wonderful-visual-outlining-7-steps-of.html.
I am extremely fond of storytelling here on the Artist Myth blog. I love the power of stories to unite people in a culture and overcome obstacles. They carry within them a great deal of significance, and you can use this to your advantage. If you’re not already a subscriber, I’d love to invite you to become one at the bottom of this article… I talk a lot about crafting your own personal story and creating your myth.
If you want people to be able to understand you and like your stuff, then you have to be able to accurately and clearly talk about the work you do. You need to begin thinking of your art as your story, so that people can relate and find themselves in there somewhere.
There are a lot of aspects to the art of storytelling that you’ll find, but one key in particular i’d like to call out is the listener. This involves knowing your audience.
Focus on the Audience First, Yourself Second
Communication starts with the other person in mind. Talking is a two-way street, and you started the conversation when you created the art.
Have you ever had those conversations when it felt like the other person was talking AT you, not to you or with you? Like talking with them was a one way street, and they had the right of way?
Well, don’t put your audience through it.
Take the focus off of yourself, and put it more on them. Then you will find that not only will you feel less self-conscious, but you will also become more likeable. You will engage them, making them an active participant, not just a passive listener.
Think of it as a way to invite someone else into your work. Here is a little world you’ve created, now you get to show them that world.
One way you can do this is by asking them questions. Let your curiosity show about them (in a socially appropriate way, of course!)
Another is by looking closely at their nonverbal cues and adjusting to them. Do they seem nervous or agitated? Or disinterested? Or do they examine your work closely, seeming interested? There is a lot you can learn by looking, not just listening.
The magical thing about putting your listener first is that they will unconsciously become part of the aforementioned story. By taking an active role, they are part of your story. You will often find that the result of this interweaving of your lives is that they will be more likely to buy, vote for, or promote your art.
Write and Practice Your “Artist Elevator Pitch”
This has many names, like “Artist’s Statement”, “Mission Statement”, or something similar. Entrepreneurs often call it the “Elevator Pitch“, which I like because it carries with it the sense of brief time that you have to give it, and the need to craft it down to a bite-sized statement.
Be sure that it encompasses your goals as an artist and that it uniquely describes you. There may be a need to do some soul searching to make sure it’s exactly what you want to say. But don’t stress out too much over it – you can change it as you evolve and as you practice it. If you need help writing your statement, there are a lot of resources, like this article or this one.
You can use your Elevator Pitch to lean on whenever you get that sudden question that goes something like, “What do you do?”
Many of us freeze up at that deceivingly simple question. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to confidently and without hesitation return a coherent, memorable response? Then you can go from there, answer further questions, or continue the conversation.
Your elevator pitch will take practice… plan to spend many minutes in front of the mirror, practicing the content, delivery, and tone of your pitch. Say it until you’re tired of saying it, and then say it some more. Then say it to a supportive friend or family member. Do this homework, and prepare to be surprised at the confident way you deliver it the next time you’re put on the spot.
Reject the “Rejectors”… And Move On
No matter how hard you try, there will inevitably be people who aren’t listening, or just don’t get it. You may even encounter that person you’re most afraid of… the one who rejects you outright.
Your art is not for everybody. Just as you are different from the next person, your art is only for a select group of people. Get used to it. If you try to please everybody, you please nobody… and make yourself supremely unhappy in the process.
So just learn to relax, be yourself, and don’t try too hard to “sell” to people. If you exude confidence (not cockiness, but instead, quiet confidence that comes from self-awareness) then you will be magnetic to the right people.
And if you do encounter that person who doesn’t get it or seems outright hostile, then politely move on. If that person is a family member, or somebody who you can’t avoid, then draw the line at what conversation you can have in a civil manner. Save your talk about your art for people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say, don’t waste your breath on people who won’t listen to you. You can’t make them. You also cannot afford to spend your time trying to convince people who don’t want convincing.
What Can You Do Today to be a Better Communicator?
Take action now by following this simple formula to measurably improve your gift of gab in no time.
First, make a list of your current state of things as a communicator.
- How do you feel in a room full of people?
- Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Why?
- What do you say when people ask you what you do for a living, or what your hobbies are?
- Do you stammer, stutter, or struggle getting your words out? What do you do?
- How confident are you when talking about your art, and why?
Second, pick one thing you would like to work on the most – one skill that would noticeably make you a better, more articulate communicator about your art.
Third, develop a plan for how to develop that skill, with these three steps:
- Research people with that skill (try watching a Ted Talk on YouTube looking specifically for the skill you want to emulate, and write down what you see).
- Visualize yourself giving that same talk to a group of people. See yourself emulate the specific skill you chose to see in your model speaker.
- Practice this skill in simple, normal conversation with people. Try to be as natural as possible… if you did steps one and two properly, it should start to feel easier and easier.
Good Luck on your journey to better communication! I wish you well, and many happy conversations.
I’d love to hear your comments and experiences… please share them below this article. What skill did you choose for the exercise? What do you feel would help you be a better communicator about your art? What improvements have you seen not just in your art, but in your life from working on that skill?
Also, if you would like to get more actionable tips like the ones in this article, I would like to invite you to join the Mythmakers, a community of like-minded artists who endeavor to create more enjoyable and rewarding creative careers by busting their old unproductive myths and creating new ones.