I’ve talked about the children’s stories I’ve been working on a lot. That’s what happens when you find the thing you love.

You imagine that the whole world has been waiting to hear about your passion, this revelation of yours that there is a bigger purpose to your everyday than commuting, reporting and the Groundhog Day repetition of a diary straining at the seams with meetings.

Last weekend all this casual chatting about the horrible habits of the Lairies got a bit terrifying.

Now I’m no stranger to talking in front of people (cough). I’ve spoken publicly on subjects I know a lot about, as well as topics that I’ve had to wing at the last minute. I’ve presented research to hundreds of people, and offered up ideas to small groups of top brass. I’ve persuaded boards to increase budgets and I’ve entertained at fancy dinner parties. And although I do still get the butterfly-tummy feeling immediately before a big event, real nerves about this sort of thing are a thing of the past.

Or so I thought. Enter 12 children with big opinions, wild imaginations and a bluntness that could have the most confident executive quaking at the knees. This time, the audience really mattered. These were the VIPs, the folk who’d give the concept and the storytelling a big thumbs-up or the dreaded raspberry of disgust. Worse, they might be completely indifferent to the work I’d poured my heart, soul and salary into for the past year.

On Saturday 14 May AppyLab hosted a Lairies playshop (no work allowed), where our VIPs heard the story of Parp and the Secret Stink, met all our characters and designed their own. It was amazing. I have not laughed that much for a long time, kids are incredible therapy.

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I think the lessons we learned this week can be interpreted and applied regardless of your target demographic.

  1. Show your hand early

We waited until the Lairies were full swing in production before putting them in front of our audience, which was a mistake. Although you’ll want to understand some specific feedback, you’ll get a lot more than just the answers to your questions so show your hand as early as possible.

If there’s a problem you’re trying to solve, your audience has also been thinking about that problem for some time. They may have come up with their own potential solutions already. If you share early you can leverage all that thinking to improve your concept at the least costly stage.

  1. Get your audience active

Engagement happens when people are involved and bought into the concept presented to them. It rarely happens when they sit passively listening to you talk.

Save the long diatribes for your future lecture circuit, you need to get people on their feet, debating, gesticulating and alive.

Top tip: Open questions are great when people already know each other but it can be very intimating to speak up in a roomful of strangers. Try asking a specific person a specific question, then follow up with more questions until you get a piece of useful information. Then you can go to the floor with “anyone else?” by which time the rest of the audience will be more confident about what you’re expecting from them.

  1. Something to share

A useful way to spread your idea further than the room is to give your audience something to take away that they can easily share.

We gave our 3-10 year olds a little souvenir photo book with lots of artwork in, that they could take to school and show their friends, because it’s more difficult to share content online when you’re little!

  1. Find people better than you

I know what I’m good at, and more importantly I know what my weaknesses are. Try and find people who are better at the stuff you don’t excel at to help out. You’ll be humbled and amazed at how many people are prepared to give up their spare time and expertise if you just ask.

We had help from friends with top interviewing skills, superb storytelling talents and fantastic photography to help take some of the pressure off and increase the quality of the day’s output.

  1. Size doesn’t matter

If budget is holding you back, re-think your approach.

Two reasons for this: Firstly, you only need a few people from your target audience group to get some really useful feedback so it’s certainly not a case of go big or go home.

Secondly, experience trumps size. Focus on the experience your audience will have at your event and they’ll get value out of it even if you can’t hire the Albert Hall. Remember it’s all about them, not you.

Good luck and go for it. Let us know how you get on!

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