I thought I was going to London Film & Comic Con, what I actually got was a masterclass in connecting with your audience.
- It's not the big things that make a difference.
- Connection can take place in a heartbeat
- Location doesn't matter, so long as you're visible
- Know who your audience is
- Know who is in the room with you
- Personalisation means a lot
- It takes stamina to greet, smile and pose 300+ times. Do it anyway
I spent the day at London Fim & Comic Con at Olympia. We went to meet William Zabka, and came home with a whole new level of respect for him, Jacob Bertrand, Xolo Maridueña, Robert Patrick and Manu Bennet. As a family, we're big fans of the You Tube TV series Cobra Kai. This is a show about what happened to the main protagonists in the Karate Kid, and introduces new teens learning martial arts. It's a great series. It's well written and the actors are superb. So good that we traveled into London with the intention to meet them.
At Comic-Con they have the actors sitting at tables in a long line. In front of the actor is a queue and people line up to get an autograph or say hello. Some of the actors have enclosed areas, and some have segmented queuing sections. It's one huge room with over 250 actors ready to meet the people that watch them.
Robert Patrick's line was the longest. Longer than Jason Momoa, longer than Zachary Quinto… He's been in films like Terminator (I think it's T3, it's been a while since I saw it) and popular sci-fi shows like Stargate Atlantis. So he's probably not as well known as Momoa or Quinto but his queue was 4 people deep and snaked around the room.
What was Patrick doing differently?
How come there were lines of hundreds of people waiting to see him when he wasn't the headline star? Did he have the best location? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Lee Majors and Zachary Quinto had the best positions.
How did Robert Patrick gain the advantage?
He was standing up behind his table. Everyone else was sitting. But Robert Patrick stood behind his table and talked to the people in front of him and the people coming up in the queue and he did this for 12 hours non-stop. He was smiling chatting for 12 hours and everyone in the room could see him as he was standing up.
Over 250 actors, some from huge blockbusters and 3 times as famous as him, but he was visible to his audience. Others saw the line and decide to join in – he must be good if all these other people are here…. #FOMO
You can be in a crowded room, full of famous colleagues and instead of feeling overwhelmed he actually stood out. I searched IMDB and saw that he was 60 years of age, and I thought “Wow”. Actors a third of his age were just sitting down and here he is bringing the audience to him.
Clearly, he's a master at his craft. I really regret not going to get a signed photo so I could express my admiration. There's always next year.
As we walked around we saw Jacob Bertrand and Xolo Maridueña.
The X in Xolo is pronounced as a “Sh” sound and not a “Z” sound like it often is in Europe. They play Hawk and Miguel in Cobra Kai and the Girls were excited to see them. Miguel is Jonny Lawrence's (William Zabka) protege and Hawk responds to Lawrence's tough love. If you want to know more, just go and watch the series.
We walked over and started chatting to Bertrand, and the Girls shyly expressed admiration for his hair in the show and I mentioned they were martial artists. They then started to talk about martial arts and Bertrand shared his thoughts and encouraged the girls. I can't express enough gratitude for this. The Girls have rarely seen martial arts on the TV. They train in Japanese Jujitsu and they've only seen a little of it in the remake of Monkey. So watching Cobra Kai means they see other teens train and use their martial arts skills.
He then signed a photo for them and the Girls were delighted. He even agreed to a selfie with them which made their day.
We then went to get a signed photo of Xolo Maridueña. You can't have Hawk without Miguel! Maridueña welcomed the Girls and chatted to them about martial arts, he shared his sister trains in Jujitsu and she's always trying to grapple him, which made them laugh. Like Bertrand, he spent time talking and encouraging the Girls.
Both of the young actors connected with their audience.
They listened to them. I doubt that my daughters were the first martial arts champions they'd met, and they won't be the last, but they both listened and they felt heard.
I have to express a lot of gratitude to both the actors. They could've signed the photo and moved us on, instead they gifted my daughters with praise and encouragement. The turned two fans into super fans, and next year they want to go to Comic-Con San Diego to meet more of the Cobra Kai actors. Most importantly, the experience was so positive, the Girls are organising a Cobra Kai watch-fest so they'll turn their friends into fans…
Thank you Cobra Kai guys, you were just brilliant. In listening and encouraging your audience you built a strong connection. I know I'm going to see a lot more of you in the future (in films and TV series) as we had such a lovely time meeting you. I'm even writing a blog post about how you interact with your audience.
When you're building an audience it's easy to think of them as faceless people. It's easy to ignore them as they're often silent in the background. If actors of all ages and experience can connect with their audience and listen, what excuse do you have for not doing it?
Meeting William Zabka
For everyone, the goal of the day was to have their photo taken with William Zabka. We explained to the Girls that the photoshoot is like a conveyor-belt and over in seconds and they sort of understood. This was taking place at 6pm in the evening, and they felt it would be hard to top meeting Jacob Bertrand and Xolo Maridueña.
As they queued up, in their gi bottoms and Cobra Kai shirts, they caught the eye of Cobra Kai UK fan group. They started talking martial arts with them. There was lots of conversation about martial arts and confidence, and the guys from Cobra Kai UK were saying just wearing the gi helped them feel strong, even though they have no martial arts training. Martial arts people I've always found to be the nicest of people and time in the queue went quickly.
My daughter known as Middle Chick had her photo taken with Zabka first. As she walked up, he saw her brown belt and congratulated her on it, and encouraged her towards her black belt. They raised their fists, smiled and the photographer took the photo.
Little Chick was next, and she walked up and Zabka greeted her, said a few words, smiled and her photo was taken.
In the minute it took for the photos to be taken he'd greeted them, welcomed them with a personal observation, raised fists and smiled for the camera.
He must've done it at least 300 times already; he made every person in the room feel special. It doesn't take a long time or a huge gesture to make someone feel welcome.
There was also Manu Bennet in attendance. We caught up with him on the stage and listened to him answering questions about playing Crixus in Spartacus, and Slade Wilson/Deathstroke in Arrow.
What was endearing about him was his memory and reverence for his audience. When someone had a question they said their name. And he'd use their name. Then someone else asks a question and he'd use theirs, and then if relevant he'd name someone who'd previously asked a question and tie them into the answer.
At one point he apologises to Bella in the audience as she's 11, and he's going to say the word “Sh*t”.
At all times he was aware of who his audience was, and he adapted his answers for them. He included the young and the old, those that were into Arrow and those that were into Spartacus. He made his audience feel so welcome.
I compare how Manu Bennet spoke to how some motivational speakers share their message and I know I'd travel anywhere in the world to listen to him speak. Sure, we loved him in both Spartacus and Arrow, but it wasn't his acting that turned us from fans into superfans. It was his respect for the people in the room with him.
I thought I was having a family day out, but what I actually had was a masterclass in connecting with your audience. It's easy to forget with all the online stuff that actors having been connecting to their audience for a long time, and their skills and professionalism extends beyond the screen.
I'm going to put my feet up now. I did nearly 20,000 steps at the event. I think Robert Patrick must've done 80,000 and he's not saying his feet ache and he needs to stretch out on the sofa. He's got up today and repeated his actions all over again. It's actions like this that separate the amateurs from the professionals.