Be Smart About Art

"Browsing, or looking for something?" The impact of asking smart questions.

written by: Susan J Mumford Nov. 11, 2018 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 9216 views

"Browsing, or looking for something?" The impact of asking smart questions.

“Are you browsing or looking for something particular?” asked the friendly Eastern European man who works at a local antiques shop at the weekend. I responded with, “browsing, thank you,” and thought to myself, “What a smart question!” He left me to have a look at my leisure. 

His words had not been randomly assembled in that moment. They were considered, based on previous interactions and experiences with visitors. Moreover, they enabled him how best to interact, based on the interest and needs of people entering the building. 

If browsing, you are left to walk around and see if anything jumps out. The assistant is still gently available, while giving visitors space to meander and chat. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something in particular, your response prompts a different conversation, that is, of looking for an item not yet found. 

This goes to show that when you’re running a public-facing shop and/or are presenting an event that will entice visitors from the public to attend, it’s helpful to have questions at the ready. This will assist in assessing a visitor’s interest, informing you how to interact (as evidenced in the above scenario) and more. 

The questions that you ask will be impacted by the type of event, location, your own personal style and so on. Here are some ideas to get you started... 

“What brings you to the (exhibition)?” 

“What’s your interest in (a description of what’s on display)?” 

“In what context are you here today?”  

Consider this scenario: 

Someone walks into an event that you’re presenting and you find out that the individual is a student, thanks to asking a smart question that solicits this information. It turns out that the person is studying a technique that you use, and you’re happy to give some insight while walking around the exhibition, giving examples. 

A couple then walks into the space. You welcome them by smiling and saying a gentle, “hello”. Still standing with the student, you express how enjoyable it’s been to meet, and encourage the individual to continue walking around the exhibition. You might also include noting to take some action, such as signing the visitor book and the like. This frees you up to introduce yourself to the couple, to ascertain their interest and take the conversation - or not, from there. 

Not only do I encourage you to think of opening questions in advance, how about practicing saying them? This helps you to remember them and it also better enables the words to slip off your tongue. By the time you’re engaging with real-life visitors, the questions are so easy to ask that you’re able to genuinely talk WITH people without being overly self-conscious, just like my own experience in the antiques shop. 

Think about an event that you’ll be staging or with which you’ll be involved, when you’ll be meeting strangers. What questions will you ask? It’s amazing how thinking about this helps in many differing scenarios. 


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Posted by : Maggie Sadoway 12/11/2018 02:36

Hi, Susan, as you know, we owned our small store for 33 years, with a firm policy of trying to greet every customer who walked in. Immediately saying, "Can I help you," often seemed to turn people off. Always commenting on the weather seemed a bit boring. It took quite some time and experimentation to find the "golden" phrase said in just the right relaxed but alert tone of voice: "Let me know if there is something I can help you with." The "Let me know" part was all important! Cheers!