How do you measure success?
Last week I entertained at the Huron County Fair in Norwalk, OH, doing 3 shows each day from Monday through Saturday. It was a lot of fun, especially with the fantastic crowds and super weather.
Sharing the grassy area stage with me was Bobby Maverick, a magician and escape artist. For years, Bobby made his living as a street performer, or Busker. We got to talking about how we measure our success as entertainers. Bobby told me how much he loves performing on a street corner, with the only payment being what shows up in your upturned hat when you’re done. He explained that it doesn’t matter how many laughs you get or how loud the applause, the only thing that matters to a street performer is how much money is in that hat.
Many comedians measure their success by laughs per minute during their set. Jeff Dunham, for example, strives for a sustained 6-7 laughs per minute during his 90-minute shows. Do the math. That’s a lot of laughs. It also explains why people are sore for days after going to one of his shows.
My goal is to entertain the audience. Sure, I want the audience to laugh – a lot. But, I’m not going for the level of sustained laughter that Jeff seeks. My act is specifically designed to generate waves of strong laughter with some pleasant rest periods in between. So, a sustained rate of 5-7 laughs per minute over the entire show is not the right metric for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am always looking for ways to make the peaks stronger and the valleys narrower. But, much like a band that mixes in some slow songs to give the audience a break between the hard driving numbers, I intentionally mix in some segments that are designed to let the audience catch their breath.
During the fair, I realized two metrics that I can use instead. First is repeat audience attendance. I’ve been doing fairs for years and it has always amazed me that with all of the things going on at these events, people would make the choice to come back and see my show numerous times.
It is flattering. It also makes me work harder to do different shows each time.
Second is how many people pull out their cell phones to capture my act on video. I know many entertainers who get all bent out of shape when people record their shows. I find it amazingly flattering. If someone is enjoying what I am doing so much that they have the desire to record it, I’ll take that compliment every time. The reality is that people rarely try to record the whole thing. Something clicks with them and they pull out their phone to capture some small portion of the act. The more this happens, the more I know I am providing a show that they are enjoying.
The repeat attendee metric only works for extended runs like fairs. The cell phone metric, however, is appropriate for pretty much all of my work, including the audiences I serve the most – company and association events. Now my task is to set some targets for these metrics and figure out ways to actually track them.
What are your metrics? What is the best way to gauge the success of your performance?