LISTEN UP! Using Sound to Engage and Influence an Audience

Believe it or not, as humans, we actually hear faster than we see, feel, smell or taste, and once a sound wave reaches our ear, it takes just .05 seconds for our brain to recognize it.  This means that when it comes to making a good first impression, perfecting your sound — as well as the volume, associated emotional connotations, etc. — is key.


“We have these amazing opportunities to both set the tone and experiences for people,” Joel Beckerman, the author of The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, says in an interview, “ [and] give them information in an instant.”


As a follow-up to the Echelon 12 For 12 podcast episode (listen above) on audio and captivating the senses, we’re digging into the power of sound and how you can properly apply and harness it in a tradeshow setting to attract attention, evoke thoughts and feelings, and present and converse effectively.


Ready? Listen up!


Master Volume with Tools of the Trade


First thing’s first: it doesn’t matter what sounds you’re producing, or what you’re saying, if no one can hear it. And in a crowded, chaotic trade-show environment — where the volume of ambient noise fluctuates and hundreds of people are talking and fighting to capture and keep attention, things get more complicated — the primary audio obstacle is, of course, volume.


As anyone who’s attempted a conversation in a crowded bar can attest, simply yelling louder isn’t an effective, or pleasant, way to get your message across. And running back and forth to adjust the volume of your speakers depending on the noise level of the exhibit hall is neither efficient nor practical. When “turning it up to 11” isn’t a solution, it’s time to think outside the standard speaker box and implement some innovative tools of the trade.


Brown Innovations is one company that’s combating these audio issues with signature products like its Sound Dome, a directional speaker that allows you to have a private, perfectly discernable two-way conversation with a person on the other side of your booth that nobody else — even a person an arm’s length away — can hear.


Meanwhile, SmartVolume is a feature that can be added to speakers so that volume automatically adjusts in accordance with the fluctuating volume of the environment to remain at your custom setting of X decibels above or below that of the ambient noise.


‘It’s basically like a surfer riding a wave,” explains Jeremy Brown, president of the company. “Regardless of how big the wave is, it’s just always going to be playing wherever you want it to be in relationship to the ambient noise.”


Sure beats screaming, “Alexa! Turn it up!” every five minutes in the middle of the Adobe Summit.


Be Selective with Sound


While “silence is golden” isn’t a sensible philosophy in a trade-show setting, remember that there when it comes to sound, there is too much of a good thing.


“The problem is not that there’s not enough sound in the world; it’s that we are completely overrun with sound,” Beckerman, the aforementioned sonic branding expert, says. “The sounds in our lives should elevate our experience. They should benefit us.”


Keep this idea in mind when designing audio for your booth and ask yourself the important questions when adding a sonic element: Is there a real reason for it? Does it enhance the experience or is it more distracting than anything?


And if you choose to have more than one audio element in your display, be sure that speakers  are set up strategically so that different audio sources don’t compete with one another. You’ll be dealing with enough noise pollution just being in an exhibit hall; don’t create your own within your booth.


Practice Sonic Psychology


Much like lighting [INSERT LINK TO LIGHTING BLOG], sound affects the way we think, feel and even behave — whether we notice it or not.


An article in Sound & Communications —  “Psychology of Sound” — dives into sound strategy for retailers and cites several studies, including one on the influence of in-store music on wine selections. This study found that on days when researchers played French music inside the store, French wine outsold German wine, while when researchers played German music, more bottles of the German wine were sold. In another, “Play That One Again: The Effect of Music Tempo on Consumer Behavior in a Restaurant,” researchers found that customers tend to eat more slowly and linger longer in restaurants that are playing slow music. On the flip side, they usually eat —- and leave — more quickly when the background music has a fast tempo.


And the psychology of sound isn’t only about environments, but products as well. Bentley, for example, hired an aural designer to create custom-made sounds for the indicators, alerts and more in its Continental GT model to make it sound more upscale while BMW and Mercedes have been laser-focused on details like the sounds their vehicle doors make when closing.


“For luxury brands, this is crucial,” writes Daphne Leprince-Ringuet in a Wired article diving into luxury brands and the psychology of sound. “By provoking a specific psychological response to a given sound, they can contribute to their clients’ overall appreciation of quality in the product.”


So how does this apply in the exhibit space? How do you use sound to hack minds, build a better booth and convey quality, innovation or any other trait?  Well, that’s up to you and dependent on the message you’re attempting to convey and the mood you want to set. When it comes to the human mind, details do matter, so do some research, hire an expert if necessary, and plan every single soundbite accordingly.


Design the Right Soundtrack


While “What music style fits your brand?” sounds like a Buzzfeed quiz, it’s also a legitimate question that demands careful consideration if you plan on integrating music into your booth, video or presentation.  After all, music isn’t just about psychology and arousing feelings and emotions, It’s also a key component of branding, and background music businesses are thriving as organizations seek out the right soundtracks for their offices, restaurants, stadiums and stores.


Just as opera would feel strange in most grocery stores and heavy metal would be weird to hear at a hospital, certain types of music are likely a poor fit for your company or industry. (It’s great you want to disrupt the funeral-home sector, but Snoop Dogg might not be the right way to do it.) And implementing music that feels unnatural, or even inappropriate, is more than a DJing blunder. This error could do significant damage by driving away current and potential clients who are confused or distracted — whether they realize it or not — by this out-of-place component of your marketing presentation.


Whether it’s foreground or background, be sure that the music used in your exhibit and your marketing materials is either neutral enough to be neither noticeable nor offensive — elevator music, anyone?— or is chosen intentionally to align with your company, industry, message and mission. (On another important note, be sure to look into licensing.)


Finally, remember that the music should be reflective of your brand, not your personal taste. While you might sleep in an old Taylor Swift tour t-shirt, no CMO is going to take you seriously if you’re trying to talk business over songs about teardrops on a guitar.

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