Reaching out: attracting new audiences to expert evening talks

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Curious connections

Curious Connections: the past year has seen us trial new formats at our evening talks

We have a well-established tradition of public evening talks at all of our palaces, inviting historians, writers and curators to offer their expert insights into our stories. Over the years we’ve built up a loyal fan base and attracted high-profile names, including author Hilary Mantel on Anne Boleyn’s downfall and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon chairing a debate on the art masters. But, of course, we never want to rest on our laurels – and as part of our bold new strategy we are working on some key areas to improve and grow our offer.

#1 – developing new formats to attract broader audiences

We love our ‘committed enthusiast’ audience, but, like lots of cultural organisations, we are also concerned with being relevant to a broad range of people and want to diversify our audience to better reflect the population local to our palaces. One way to do this is to broaden our offer.

‘Curious Connections’  is our new talk format at the Tower of London, in which we invite a panel of experts to discuss historic stories that resonate with contemporary issues. One of my favourite talks of last year was ‘Spies and Us’, when HRP curator Sally Dixon-Smith spoke on the spies shot at the Tower during the First World War and expert Richard Aldrich shared his knowledge of modern espionage.

The result was an absorbing dialogue that illuminated current concerns like Wikileaks and GCHQ through the lens of the Tower’s past. Unfamiliarly for us, 40 per cent of that audience had never been to an HRP event before, and one person described it as ‘fascinating, fresh, insightful’.

#2 – focusing resources and increasing impact

We are always juggling our desire to offer a wide a range of activities with our commercial responsibilities to deploy resources effectively. So looking forward, we have decided to reduce the number of talks offered while strengthening each event (carefully curating speakers and topics, marketing effectively, and so on) to make it more successful.

In addition, we will programme more and more talks that are part of ‘something bigger’ – a larger initiative that gives each event more momentum and bite. Recently we had talks to celebrate Hampton Court Palace’s new art gallery, and next up, excitingly, is inspired by the recent BBC TV show with Lucy Worsley on Edward VI’s christening.

A Night at Hampton Court Palace

Something bigger: Lucy Worsley presents ‘A Night at Hampton Court’ with David Starkey

#3 – using digital activity to amplify our offer

We want as many people as possible to access our stories, but know that for some visiting our sites in person isn’t an option. So, we’re taking the palaces to the people through digital outputs, including podcasts and engaging social media campaigns. Recent listeners to our podcasts have been from as far afield as Panama and Bosnia and Herzegovina, plus we were excited to see 1,500 people take part in our Facebook vote to tell us ‘who is the most glorious Georgian?’ – ahead of our live debate on the same topic. (Queen Caroline, brilliant wife of George II topped the poll, in case you were wondering!)

We are looking forward to making changes and trying new ideas. Over the next year we anticipate some trial, some error and lots of hard work, but think it will be well worth it.

We would love to hear what you think through the comments section below. And of course, we hope you’ll come and enjoy our talks programme at the palaces or visit us online soon.

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