What I Learned from Librarian Testimonials
I’m not the brightest bulb in the socket but every so often I have a shining idea. My bright idea was to adopt the idea of someone smarter than me and ask for video testimonials. I believe strongly in video testimonials. I ask for one after every show. I ask the client to say who they are, where they are, that they just saw Mr. Barry’s show and what they thought of the show. Some testimonials are good and some are great.

I can write up the testimonial as a written quote to use in print advertising. I don’t have to wait for the client to hopefully return a referral letter or survey. The video testimonial videos are great for advertising purposes but they also reveal what the clients truly think. Since they are somewhat on the spot their feelings are honest. I also learn how the clients see my character role as an entertainer.

Testimonial videos reveal what we are doing in the eyes of the client and what they find important. Knowing what our client finds important is imperative as we plan our advertising. After a review of the testimonials I recorded for my 2017 summer show, I made some valuable discoveries. These discoveries come from client comments about my show, however, the core message of client desires should apply to all library performers.

1. Funny for All
Over the years, my view of what a librarian wants to see in a summer reading show has changed. I have tried to be educational, book driven messages, fit the summer theme, offer variety, and be funny. All of these are important and should be in the show. However, the most important aspect of the show, based on testimonials, is FUNNY.

The majority of comments are similar to one librarian’s comment: “The humor was great for the adults and the children.” This is an important distinction. To be funny for adults and children, there must be content written especially for adults. Adults will tune out and play on their phones if the content is just written for kids. However, they might put their phones down if they hear something they find funny too. Obviously it should be a kid’s show but content that makes everyone laugh will have the librarians loving you. This can be accomplished by adding jokes and bits that go over the heads of the children, directly to the adults. Use contemporary humor as well. Make it funny! To accomplish this, we need a script.

2. The Puppet is the Star
Due to the popularity of my puppet, I’ve changed the way I market my children’s shows. Put simply, the puppet is now the star. In the beginning, I was scared to use a puppet. I’m a puppeteer not a ventriloquist. I was convinced the kids would laugh at me instead of with me. Thankfully I was wrong. I’ve changed everything about how I promote. I never send out a marketing piece without a picture of both of us. It’s obvious in the marketing that Sam the Turtle is the real star of the show. I don’t even give the audiences an option to like my Facebook page. I send them straight to Sam’s page. I don’t even suggest that the kids might want a picture of me after the show. I explain they can get a picture with Sam and I’ll just be in the middle.

Changing the star of the show to a puppet was an obvious decision as I listened to the testimonials. Clients always mentioned the turtle. In the beginning, I had questions about my own act and if I even needed to be there. But now I don’t care if Sam is the star because I’m still cashing the checks.

Keep in mind, Sam has about six to eight minutes in the show but he originally only had two minutes. He’s been learning longer scripts. Even when he only had two minutes, he was becoming the star. In this year’s show two librarians were shooting a video and they began by saying, “We loved Sam the Turtle! Almost as an after thought they said, “We loved Barry too.” We laughed about it and they decided to shoot the video again putting my name first. However, the truth had already been revealed. Sam was the star.

Another librarian said, “Sam the turtle came and even made two appearances.” The point is, by listening to the testimonials, I embraced the real star of the show and now focus on the real star. It works. One librarian began her testimonial by saying, “We had Mr. Barry and his puppet show. We had a wonderful time.” In the mind of the librarian, all the magic, stories and comedy was just an opening act for the puppet. I’m fine with that.

3. Constantly Engaged
One testimonial was, “Barry’s show was very age appropriate, more so than any show we’ve ever been to.  He keeps the children engaged at all times.  There’s no down time.  They don’t have any time to get bored. The teachers as well as the children enjoy the show.  I highly recommend his show for children.”

After the recording she said, “You never gave them a moment to lose attention. You kept them constantly engaged.” I was thrilled to hear my glue was working. What I call “glue” had fulfilled this teacher’s desire for students to pay attention. The comment came from a teacher at a program that was both a library show and a summer school program. Teachers appreciate content that holds the attention of students. “Glue” is the word I use for transitions between tricks or segments in the show.

My pet peeve is to finish a trick and say, “You wanna see another trick?” There’s no rule again this, I just prefer a slightly more creative glue to hold the show elements together.

In the past, I have used a Trevor Lewis idea that works great. In the beginning of the show, Trevor instructs the children that it’s very sad when a trick is over so everyone says “Oh.” But if there’s another trick coming it’s very exciting so everyone says, “Yay!” When he finishes a trick, he says, “That tricks over.” The kids respond with “Oh.” Then Trevor says, “Do you want to see another one?” They kids say, “Yay!” I have loved and used this glue for years.

Trevor’s method is great but I wanted a little more and the option to make the moment educational if possible. In my school shows, I use an affirmation for the kids to say between segments. I like to have some type of visual cue. In one of my school shows on language arts, I used a toy remote controlled cow. I hid the remote in a bandana. The children were instructed to say, “Language moo . . . ves me” when I waved the bandana. Then the cow would dance. Also known as, Bovine Bob would boogie. It was a western themed show. The kids loved it. Bob’s dance acted as the glue and it added a potentially educational moment with an affirmation.

Another glue I use is to ask the children to remind me of something I always forget. For a library show I used a “magic” safety cone. The safety cone is attached to a change bag that was the final prop in the show. I instructed the children, “After each trick I’m supposed to move the magic safety cone. However, I often forget. Please remind me.” This method of keeping the kids involved is so good you might call it real magic. In some cases, I needed to prompt the audience by saying, “I know there is something I’m supposed to do but I can never remember what it is.” By the end of the program, the kids almost can’t wait until a trick is finished to remind me to move the cone.

There is one other dab of glue I use in my shows that is my personal favorite. I call it hype. In the beginning of the show, I announce something special that will happen later on. For example, I mention my friend (puppet) Sam the Turtle is in the show. I ask if they would like to meet him. When they say yes, I walk toward the puppet, then turn back and say, “Not yet.” The kids go nuts. After a few times of saying, “Not yet,” the kids start to say it with me. They are constantly engaged.

4. Books Are Important
Most librarians give good comments but ever so often you get one that tells you exactly what you need to know. One librarian said, “We just watched Mr. Barry’s magic show with Sam the tool Turtle. It was fabulous. The kids had a great time. Lots of great jokes, lots of great magic tricks, and lots of learning. I really enjoyed his sections about books. I’m glad he included books in his program. And how he incorporated the build a better world theme into his show for summer reading.” When the librarian was finished I said to her. “Wow, you knocked it out of the park. You hit on all the important parts of a great testimonial.” Although I was honest with her and appreciative of her kind words, I was also listening to her. She was affirming my choice to add books in the show. Being funny must be the priority but they want to see books too.

5. Secrets Revealed
People reveal what’s important to them if you listen closely. One librarian said,He did an excellent job. Very organized. . .” Another said, “We highly recommend him. He was very professional and very entertaining.” To these people being organized and professional is important. However, it may reveal previous experiences with other performers who were not organized and professional. I read a post on Facebook by a magician who said, “For most librarians, the most important thing we can do is show up on time.” This implies that others don’t.

One of my favorite quotes of the summer was from a librarian that wouldn’t shoot the video until she thought about it. She said, “I want to think about exactly what I want to say.” I was eager for her to take time to do that because I expected something great. However, more than my expectation of a great quote was my realization that she really enjoyed the show if she wanted to make sure her testimonial was good. Her testimonial was, ”If you want a show where the performer shows up on time and does an awesome, awesome show that will get all your kids excited and really hyped up for reading, Mr. Barry is your guy. Hire him!” Hidden within her comments was a not so subtitle dig at other performers who didn’t show up on time.

There’s more we can learn from video testimonials. You can tell a great deal about a person’s true opinion of the show through their body language. As I continue to ask for video comments, I continue to learn little ways to improve and change what I do. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this habit is the importance of listening to the comments as much as I want potential clients to listen.

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