Sunday, May 4, 2008

Faces in the Crowd: An Exercise in Human Observation

Today, I was allowed the privilege of observing many groups of people presented with the same situation.

I was part of a Bucket Brigade, our task was to carry a bucket at the annual May Day Parade and Festival in Minneapolis, MN, and ask for donations from the crowd. It's a fun and colorful event with lots of beautiful costumes, floats, banners, and puppets. You can see the website here.
The money donated goes towards supporting In The Heart of The Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. If you want to make your own tax-deductible donation, please check out their donation page here.

My training consisted of the following paraphrased sentences. "Walk very slowly. Don't bunch together with the others. People are herd animals, once one in a group gives a bunch more will follow."

With this advice in mind I set out to try and find the way to maximize my donations and to make some observations of people.

The most important thing I keyed into is reading the body language of people in the crowd. There were people far in advance who I could see were going to donate. This is observable by a few telltale signs. The most obvious were a person looking at you, women digging through their purses and men leaning on a leg to get the wallet. Those were the low hanging fruit of the crowd, easy to spot. The only thing that I needed to do is make sure that I did not walk past them.
The opposite of the low hanging fruit were the people who were not going to give at all. I observed a very low rate of donations from people who would quickly avert eye contact when they initially saw me. I would guess that these people are not well represented in the crowd though.

Most people fell somewhere in between the two types, in that they will give, but it may take a little 'working'. This is all for a good cause, and tax deductable, so I don't mind 'working' people a little bit out of their money.

One technique I used was sincerely and energetically thanking each person who gave. This seemed to help catalyze the herd effect. People would see that I was making a big fuss about someone giving and I speculate that they wanted other people see me make a fuss over them. People want others to see them as generous. I have no issue with exploiting this human characteristic to support a good cause.

The other technique that I found surprisingly effective is to work the kids. Small children love giving money. Parents love seeing their small children give money. Parents seeing other people's small children giving money tends to result in them giving their own small children money to donate. There also seemed to be some subsequent adult donations. I call it the chain of child donations.

One odd phenomenon I observed was when small children would approach me without money, but just to see what was in the bucket. I would kindly explain that I was not giving anything away, but asking for donations. Every time I did that, the following events were identical to the above described chain of child donations. Little kids would come up with money. Then a few more donations would come from the crowd.

The last thing I noticed was how effective standing still and looking people in the eyes was. There were many points where the parade was stopped and I'd stand by a section of a crowd for a few minutes. The people did not initially give, but many did after a little bit of time. All I would do is smile and look people in the face. It's amazing how waiting can break down people's resistance. The idea of waiting reminds me of the scene in Glengarry Glen Ross where Levene is describing his sale to Roma, "I held that pen and just waited...". Come to think of it, I'd kind of like to see Glengarry Glen Ross done with puppets.

There were many very generous people who gave money as well as many people who were kind enough to donate their time. I'm glad that I could participate in helping to raise money for a good cause and to meet many wonderful people.


pegkerr said...

I sent BOTH my children with money to donate.

I hope the parade raised lots of money for Heart of the Beast.

Useful Idiot said...

Thank you for your, and your children's, generosity. Every contribution helps.