The Power of Audience


I just found out about a new social media app for the cycling/running set – Strava.  My friends couldn’t believe that a fellow avid runner and cyclist was ignorant of this Marin-born network; I felt a few sets of eyes regarding me as they would the sudden apparition of a polka-dotted unicorn.  I’m assuming they’ll forgive my trespass someday (of course, their trespass was not telling me about it – the key to social media is, after all, sharing).  Strava turns your iPhone into a GPS – clocking miles ridden or run, mph, calories burned – even time elapsed on specific segments of the workout (feeding the inner data freak in virtually all athletes!).  You can follow other people, see their rides, times, etc.

There’s a particular climb near my house – 5:15 is my best time, and I hadn’t gotten measurably close to that in a while.  Years.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been fixated on it – but I’d gotten used to my all-out efforts up this familiar stretch of road ending in 5:45 or so – just a touch annoying!  But today felt a little different – after all, I was on my first “Strava ride” and felt like I had a group of friends with me.  I felt like I had a little audience looking in on my progress.  My time up the hill?


Yes, I know; don’t confuse correlation and causation.  I did, after all, have a new rear tire on the bike.  And I may have had a bit of a tailwind.  But…I am nursing a strained calf recently, making fluid pedal strokes a bit difficult…And it’s not like I’ve been riding tons…Hmmm.  Safe to say I may never get to the bottom of this particular moment.  But that won’t stop me from hypothesizing!

One truth shared by athletes, thespians, orators, teachers, and leaders is the power of audience to inspire deeper performance.  Humans are the consummate social animal – we make greater things together; we get more excited about things when together; we feel our limitations give way just a bit (or a lot) when urged on by others.  Home court advantage, anyone?

No one was physically around me, and no one would know until later about the specifics of my ride (assuming they follow me – ahem…guys?), yet I felt I had an audience in my jersey pocket.  Something deep in our psyche responds to the presence of others.  Maybe we’ve evolved to ignore pain when we need to stick with the pack for fear of being left behind.  When we need to prove that we belong – that we have a contribution to make that will enrich others around us.

Of course there is an element in social media of “Look at me!”  (This post, for instance!)  That said, anyone that has shared anything they have created is “guilty” of this.  Rather than looking at this kind of exposure as a conceit (baby/food/travel pictures on Facebook/Instagram, anyone?  Yep – guilty!), I believe it reveals our innate desire to learn and grow from shared, meaningful experiences.  Yes, there is an element of comparison (my 5:18 to someone else’s 5:05 – or 8:00); we find others to inspire us to dig deeper, and, in turn, we inspire others.  It’s a pretty good deal!

A classroom of students is a good first audience.  That said, it is an audience can becomes too familiar – too much of an echo chamber.  So how are we helping our students – and staff, for that matter – find their global audiences?  How are we helping them connect with, inspire, and be inspired by peers from around the world?  If we want them to be at their best – or better – it is our job to dissolve the classroom (school) walls and watch their confidence grow each time they surprise themselves with a “5:18.”

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