Crowd Control

The poor parent with the crying child deserves the balloon... more than the child.
- Craig Weber
How To Attract A Crowd
Keeping Your Space
Techniques For Forming A Line
Techniques For Handling The Line
Techniques For Ending The Line
Single Or Multi-Balloon Creations
Giving Customers A Choice
Not Giving Customers A Choice
Menus
Balloon Display Stands
One More Please
What To Do When You Don't Use A Line

How To Attract A Crowd

If the crowd has no history of ballooning, it does not know what to think. You need to get balloons out into the crowd to convince them they want a balloon. It's all very here and now and what's cool.

When I first arrive for a carnival or whatever, I immediately put hats on my daughter and all of her friends. I give away at least 10-20 big hats. I tell each of the lucky recipients that if anyone asks where they got it, they should say, "That funny-lookin' guy over there is making them for a C-shell." If you sell 2-3 hats by word of mouth, you've gotten your capital investment back. After that it's gravy.

It's a good idea to make some big hats and give them to kids at the beginning of your day. This will increase your visibility and draw people to you.

If nobody has balloons, it's easier for parents to say no. If it looks like everybody around you has a hat, and the kids see their happy peers wandering hither and thither, happy as peacocks with their elaborate plumage, they'll be more insistent that this is the *one* thing they *really* want today (this will be forgotten immediately, but the parents will relent on another purchase later too, so don't worry).

People tend to want things they see other people with. This is both good and bad. I can never give flowers away until people have seen one, and then I can't make too many. It's the same trick that a lot of carnival games use. They'll have several people walk around with big plush animals to make it look like they're easy to win. It's less sleazy to do this as a twister, since everybody gets their dollar's worth when you make them a balloon.

Even if no one is buying balloons, look "busy." Make an elaborate display to bring people over and keep adding to it. Get some yo-yo balloons and stand there and yo. Have a patter ("Miss, I have just the right color balloon to go with that tank-top" "What's a cubs hat without a bear?"). Make yourself an elaborate pirate costume or a space ranger outfit with your "free" time. Make some elaborate multi-balloon animals like Lorna's incredible creations (if someone wants one, sell an existing one for 5 C-shells or offer them a smaller version for less). Look like you're having fun and making money hand over fist.

If no one comes, you've got to look *happier*. If you lose money, you have to *laugh* because you had a day in the sun having fun doing what you love most. If you keep these thoughts in mind, you'll be irresistible to the crowd.

Most importantly, talk to anyone that wants to talk to you. You can talk while you twist. If you need a break, take it while talking to them. They're your audience, and they want to meet the entertainer. You never know which of those people is going to hire you for something later. The biggest problem with street entertainment is that you don't get breaks. As long as people see you, you're working. You may take a break from twisting for a few minutes, but you're still under the spotlight. In fact, a lot of people came to me and asked how I got started in balloons, how did I learn, etc. They enjoy finding out about what you do. When someone asks how they can get started I direct them to the books by Aaron Hsu-Flanders (for now anyway) since they're easy to come by. This is also a good time to point out that you can be available to do workshops if they know of a group that might be interested and have a space you can work in.

How do street entertainers go from walking an area with scattered people, to suddenly having a crowd? I asked one well known guy, and he said 'No trick to it, just ask them to stand around. Then when you have a dozen or so, ask them to clap and tell them why. When more come, start the show!' God, it makes you feel dumb when it's as simple as that!

To attract a crowd, I made 6 snails (just spiral 260s, finish with the knot end tied to the previous ring). Then a straight 260 - 4" bubble, 1" pinch twist. Put the end of the long bit into the middle of the spiral. OK what I have now is a tickle detector - ask the kids to tell you if their 'owner' is giggling enough. Inevitably kids and grown ups point them out, and you go at them with this thing that looks like a metal detector. You can also use the pump as an anti-misery jab on the odd one! Then stand the detector up and attach a 260, then another and so on. Get people to hold this 'fence'. There's your crowd. Enjoying themselves, involved, and helping you! Personally I then get a kid, give him a sword and a helmet and ask him to help me control the wild animals (pointing at the crowd, not the balloon animals by mistake). Then its request time and make 'em.

Keeping Your Space

I prefer having a line. There is nothing comfy and intimate about dozens of kids and their parents crowding around you arguing about who's next, with kids grabbing at your balloons, etc. Having fun while utilizing both subtle and not-so-subtle crowd control techniques while ballooning give everyone, including me, a more enjoyable time. It allows me to focus more on the task at hand: entertainment and twisting. The more your control techniques become simply "The Way It Is", the more adults as well as the kids will have respect for you and what you do. My ability to manage a crowd (and to have fun doing it) is one of my selling points.

Is it "better" to have a line?

There is no "better." It's a matter of preference! I don't always handle crowds the same way, as crowds can be so different depending on where you are working.

At a recent cancer society benefit, I allowed the children to crowd around my floor-model pump as I did simple hats and sculptures. I would occasionally ask everyone to take "one giant step backward" if they crowded in too closely. I reminded them that everyone would get a balloon and asked them to be patient.

When the crowd starts to get too intense I will take my right arm, and very gently swing my arm in an arc, and ask the kids to stay where I can't reach them. Perhaps making a joke about "getting them" but typically not. I find that with an occasional reminder they will self regulate on this issue too. No doubt one could draw an arc with chalk or tape and tell the kids to stay behind it.

A lot of jugglers carry a rope to lay on the ground to define their working space -- a "safety zone" in their case. It's flexible and light, easy to carry coiled up, and can be laid down in any number of patterns or shapes (rectangle, circle, squiggle, etc.) to create a specific effect. A rope is reusable, picks up in a snap, and does not leave residue like masking tape. Also, if you use a fairly sturdy rope, it won't get kicked (or blown) around.

Space seems to be a problem inherent to this job. I have found myself many times backed up into a corner or trying not to hit the "children" with the balloon as I twist it. Sometimes it is a subtle shift in the line; as each child gets their ballooon the next one steps up a little closer. We try to be friendly and inviting but sometimes I just have to stop and ask the line to take a giant step back so I can have enough room. I find this especially troublesome in the summer when there is no breeze and the temps are over 100.

I have a hoolahoop and stand in the middle of it. That is my "space" and everyone has to stand outside of it.

A big pump also gives you a physical barrier between you and your audience (this could be beneficial with that rough crowd... just hold it up as a weapon and tell them to watch out or you'll blow them all away.)

Techniques For Forming A Line

I have noticed that if one person starts something, the others will follow suit. Forming a line serves the same purpose as planting kids in the audience with big hats: people tend to do what they think everyone else is doing or they want what everyone else has. Psychology! Plain and simple!

Have you ever been hungry and in a strange town? I hear that truckers always eat where they see a lot of cars. A diner with no cars is a clue that the locals avoid their food. It's the same with lines. If people have to get in line, they will start to pay. I sometimes think I should just give out free nickels just to get a line started.

Your number one goal is to have a line form. People are drawn to lines like cattle. For some reason, they value something more if they have to wait 5 minutes (less if they have to wait for 30; if you've got that much of a backlog, you need to contract another twister!).

Here are some lineup one-liners:

If you're feeling a little obtuse, you can try these:

In our children's church, we have tile floors. It is very easy to tell the kids that they will have to sit behind that line of tiles. You'd best do this with a line of tile one back from where you want them to be. One of the children is sure to misunderstand you and sit on and not behind the line of tiles you indicate. Rest assured, the others will follow sute. Personally I think it's even okay to allow this minor rebellion IF and only if they are obeying your intent. You might even let them know that you know, by asking them in a kidding manor, "Didn't I say `that' line of tiles?", as you point to the specified place on the floor. Let it pass by saying, "Well, that's okay. You kids are minding so well. Let's get started."

If you don't have tiles or some other form of naturally occuring lines on the floor of your room, bring a roll of masking tape with you. Use it to make a line on the floor.

You could line them all up by making two lines on the floor with the masking tape and having the kids stand between them. In a church settting, I wouldn't line them up. One child will cut in front of another and create problems for you to deal with that will shorten your time with the rest.

When I start to gather a crowd, I physically (gently though) take a child and place him where I want the line to start. I announce that to get a balloon we need to be in a single file line. If I need to I will keep placing kids in line until they get the idea.

Techniques For Handling The Line

It is much easier to keep everyone happy when working with a line than it is when working with a crowd (or a mob).

I ask the adults in line to help with the line. If you have someone with you, they can help with that.

When my wife and I are working together, we work on opposite sides of our sign (62" x 36" standing, 54 x 36 actual area). This leads to line breakdown at times, with the ensuing bad feelings about line drift. So I decided that if it's good enough for banks, it's good enough for me: one line, multiple people taking the next available person. The line tends to police itself with a little gentle prodding, and we don't get too much in the way of folks coming in from the side and breaking in because we know where the line starts. Some duct tape on the ground or stanchions with flags, and you're set. We've also done the one way in, one way out bit as well. Also, if you have a line stretching 60 - 100 feet back (I've had 150 feet or better), it's good to let them know that you are aware of the situation, and appreciate their patience.

When working a balloon line I use a few guidelines: I tell the crowd "no requests!" Requests slow down the line. Then:

The best method I have found for crowd control is to use stanchions and ropes (I use balloon braids instead of ropes) like those used in banks and theaters to form a funnel. The person at the tip of the funnel gets the next figure. Anyone outside of the funnel is there to be entertained. It also helps if you work with your back to a wall or barrier to prevent easy access from the rear.

When I do magic for kids, I use a line of masking tape on the floor as the Don't Cross line. Kids push it but are usually easily corrected.

When doing balloons I like to take a roll of masking tape with me. I roll out a long line. Anyone who wants a balloon must have one foot on the line. This prevents cutting and angry parents saying, "My kid was here first." About 10 minutes prior to leaving I hand out balloons to the next 10 children in line (hopefully there aren't more than that). I repeat myself for the next 9 times... only children in line that have a balloon are ones that I will have time to make balloons for. This usually satisfies the parents who are otherwise standing around. It also allows me to leave when I need to.

To form an 'edge,' make a balloon chain and give it to a few people to hold.

I find that in the San Jose/San Fran Bay area, it is the people from Mexico and India that have a hard time with the lines. I guess that in their countries there is not much of a concept of lines in public places. I find they smile, and just push their way in, right to the front, and even state "oh we were in line." The onus is on us entertainers to educate them and keep the rest of the line happy. A promoter could help, but that's not always possible.

I arrange my line so they can see what I am making so they can watch and entertain the whole crowd if possible.

To keep the kids (and adults) in order as I'm working, I want everyone to be able to see, so a straight line heading away from me seems out. One idea I had was to try and keep the line running right to left in a semicircle in front of me, so I'm working for the person on my far left, and funneling new people to the "end" of the line on my right.

Since I usually want everyone to get a balloon, I will listen while twisting, and, if I hear a parent say that they are leaving because they cannot wait any longer, I will make a balloon and give it to the child just before they're dragged away by the upset parent. I too like to see happy kids and I don't like to see them go away sad.

If they ask for something complicated and you don't want to take the time, hand 'em a business card and explain the situation. (I leave my cards next to the hat where they have to see them.)

Don't ever give the impression that you are trying to hurry the people through the line. Be casual and easy when speaking. No matter how long the line is, I always interact with everyone that I am doing balloons for. It's a real part of the experience for them. Be outgoing and energetic. To be a wonderful entertainer, attitude is everything.

What to do about very long lines - I explain to them that even at a balloon a minute, that's only 60 balloons an hour (I can't really sustain that). Some of the parents are very understanding, but I get a few every time that complain there should be more people doing the balloons or that I should go faster. How should I handle that?

When they book you and tell you how many children there are, you should tell them that it would take X number of hours to guarantee balloons for everyone. If they say that they only want you for an hour ask them how they would like to handle the children who don't get a balloon. You could suggest that they put say 50 balloon tickets in the kids bags and those with the special ticket get a balloon. There are many ways to limit balloon takers and as long as you point out the fact that it is physically impossible to make balloons for everyone in that time period, they will either understand or hire you longer.

Don't hesitate to educate your clients about what you can and cannot do. In a case like this, tell them that you can only make x number of balloons in the agreed upon time period. You, as the professional, will then make suggestions such as limiting the balloons to children only, the customer hiring another balloon artist to assist you, or perhaps offering a show without the balloons. I have done shows featuring different balloon styles and giving the results to the adult in charge (the preacher, a teacher) and suggest that they put them on display for all to see. I hope this helps a little.

When you are donating your time and somebody complains, it should be a capital offense! Well, almost anyway. I suggest taking (charging) donations to benefit the school. This can shorten the line, especially if the minimum donation is $50. A one or two dollar donation for a 3 hour balloon line could really help the school too! The line will still get long though. Probably some of the RUDE people would be eliminated (too rude to do a nice thing for the school). I've noticed a rudeness/little or no tip correlation while busking. Often the more demanding a customer, the less gracious the gratuity! All you can really do with impossible people is to keep your cool, remain polite, smile, and explain that you are donating your time and balloons, a service that can cost over 100 clams an hour!!! I swear some people would complain about winning the lottery!

Picasso is painting for a crowd and someone says " There should be more people painting...it would go faster!" See how crazy that sounds? Your attitude affects how people feel. I'm not saying that you are doing anything wrong but I've seen clowns who stand there complaining that there are too many kids and that they can't go any faster, etc.

When I see a long line of kids I occasionally look up and say things like: "Thank you all for being so patient" or "Oh, look...you're almost here!" or my favorite "Have you ever been to Disney World? No! Well this is what it is like - half an hour in line for a 4 minute ride. This is good training for you!"

I am constantly talking and schmoosing with the line to keep them entertained. I rattle off some of the things that I haven't made yet. I tell jokes, I talk about my shows, etc. I had a woman say the other night, "You are so entertaining, I don't want to leave the line." BINGO!

Take a hint from the theme parks. There is always something going on to keep your interest while waiting in line. Even my local bank has a telecaster giving out news headlines.

When handling a long line, there are two scenarios:

  1. did the kids in line pay for balloons?
  2. is it a sponsor event where you are paid in advance?
In public, once you start twisting, it is very normal to average a 30 plus minute line. If it is a sponsor event, I usually make two different items for girls and two different items for boys. If the kids are paying, I usually offer them a selection (so it doesn't take so long) or use a sign board on what is available.

If the line is getting restless, I of course give attention to the child I am working with, but I'm still able to play up to the ones in line. For example, if I make a motorcycle really fast, it looks like a glob of bubbles. I hold this glob up to the line (audience) and play a guessing game as I straighten out the glob into a chopper motorcycle. I always get applause from the audience, so I guess it works, and I usually get nice remarks back when it is finally their turn.

As far as a restless line of kids, I keep it to one item per person and each item is only one or two or three balloons, max. The other thing that helps is to get a very good nights sleep the night before. If I'm rested I can hustle - and I've been in situations where I've had to hustle for a very long time, hours and hours.

I don't know about the others, but for me speed twisting involves getting balloons to as many people as possible, yet still have them be wonderful and exciting creations. What I talk about is how many figures I can make in "x" amount of time. I used to do one balloon animals, but became a T Meyers convert and now primarily do hats in large speed situations. Two balloon hats (and there are hundreds of variations) take up *much* more space than 1 or 2 balloon animals and are faster - depending on fast you can inflate. In long lines, volume = value, both in number of balloons and size of creation.

Yes, large multi-balloon creations will help establish you as a true artist, and in other situations (parties, restaurants, etc.) they can be the way to go. But try explaining that to the multitudes waiting an hour! My philosophy, with a long line: Be funny, be fast, be nice, be fast, be really good, and be fast. Know how to control your crowd with advance planning and control techniques (see the guide), make sure the people in charge know what you're doing, and have a blast.

As far as line control, my advice is to draft a big kid to help with the line for balloon animals. I drafted a big girl and promised her a large hat if she would help keep the younger kids in line. It worked beautifully. She helped me remember who was next and what they wanted. She got a 4 balloon hat at the end of the party. This probably won't work at a public area like a mall or a restaurant, but for a party with a limited number of kids it should work well.

As far as maintaining order and being surrounded, I have found the easiest solution is to assign numbers. I randomly assign numbers to the kids around me and then afterward have them count off their numbers in sequence so that they remember and there are no arguments. Newcomers get the next highest number etc. This gives them a sense of security that they will get a balloon and also helps them realize that balloons do not go to the loudest beggars and the best pushers. It also helps with the favorite complaint "But you promised". I don't promise. I give numbers. After I finish a balloon I will announce the next number. This encourages (thank goodness) those way down in the order to find recreation elsewhere for a while and simply wait for their number to be announced. One problem is when a parent shows up with a small child in tow crying with the parent begging. Or when a child insists that they have to go home and can not wait. You're on your own there. Often I ask permission from the kids with something like "would you guys be willing to allow this child to go ahead?" They will usually agree since they are all being asked not just one child. I then make a really fast "3 bubble" poodle and hand it over.

Here's an idea that I have been using to keep kids in the balloon line:
I used to take a piece of duct tape and tape it on the floor for the kids to cue up behind. I was going through a lot of duct tape and sometimes it wouldn't stick on some dirty floors. I went to my local Home Depot and bought a black rubber/fiber welcome mat. It looks ribbed with 2 inch rows. Using a razor blade I cut out one of the strips. It's weighted and rubber backed. Now I have a re-useable black line for kids to cue up behind. It stays in place and is big enough for kids to notice.

Another suggestion would be to have a black mat that says something like "I'm next in line" or "Balloon line starts here".

The frequency and intensity of parents annoyed about 'cutting' probably varies regionally (among other factors). When I have people crowded around me rather than a straight line, I try to cover my ass by occasionally announcing something like, "Parents, please keep track of who got here when, so that I make balloons for the kids in the right order." It generally works.

It does work (and it keeps parents around) when you allow the line to police itself with occassional announcements like "Please remember your place in the line" or "I get pretty involved in what I'm doing and I may not notice if someone 'slips in.'" The parents stick around because they don't want little Johnny and little Sarah to be "cut". Also, the line approach I use and like the best is a diagonal line that shoots off either to the left or to the right. That way everyone can watch you "work" and still maintain order. It is also easier to watch the line for kids that try to slip in if you're at the middle of the line rahter than the end.

Lines are definitely great, but I still end up with a crowd around the edges. I don't mind it a bit - they seem to enjoy watching me. People always seem to be helpful in keeping order. If a child tries to grab at my balloons, there are always about 3 or 4 Moms that will ask them to step back and not touch. I rarely mind because I love kids - they are so fascinated so excited. I make multiples - the bigger the more life-like the better. It takes time, but people wait up to a half an hour to get them in lines. I love every minute of watching those kids' faces light up and the compliments I get.

To help in making sure people were aware the balloons were for free I started announcing every so often, along with my announcement that balloons were only being made for children 3 years of age and older that the only charge for my balloons were smiles. As the line became longer I decided to charge more for my balloons... this went over very well as I announced to the line... folks I have to let you know that I DO charge for my balloons... I would get looks .... then I would tell them yep... it'll cost you a smile... this would get smiles... then I would say actually.. that isn't quite accurate... it'll cost you a smile AND some patience... I used to only charge a smile but had to add patience because of inflation!!! It went over EXTREMELY well... got lots of laughs and definitely all the more patience.

On a rare occasion when they didn't settle down I told them that any one who shoves, pushes or fights will have to go to the back of the line. It worked.

The jokes and patter helps the time pass, but when it's hot or people want to be somewhere else soon, you'll get some of the whiny pre-teen, "I've been here a LONG TIME!" To which I respond, "Me, too! But the balloons are really neat, and well worth the wait!"

After you've established a line on the floor, stand on one side of it and tell the kids that you will begin making balloons for each and every one of them just as soon as they are all sitting on the other side of the line. Be sure that you stick to it. Don't let anyone have even one balloon unless they are all seated behind the line. I even tell them that they have to be sitting all the way down and not on their knees. (It takes longer to get to their feet from there.)

If one or more of the kids gets up and comes over to you without being called, calmly ask them to sit down. If they tell you "No!" or any negative answer to your request, promptly inform the disobedient child that you are going to stop making balloons unless they choose to obey. The obedient ones will bring the peer pressure to bear without your needing to ask them. I never tell the obedient ones that they aren't going to get any balloons unless Bobby minds. To me, that's degrading and disrespectful.

If you use a rabbit, or any animal that you allow to be petted by the kids, here's a way to control both the petting and the balloon giving: Have the kids come up one at a time to pet the bunny (being sure to remind kids with allergies that it is *not* o.k. for them to do so now) and make their balloon while they're doing so. Ask them what they want before they come up, or you'll spend precious seconds getting a reply. If they don't know what they want yet, move onto the next kid and tell the first you'll come back. Believe me, they'll be ready next time.

Techniques For Ending The Line

You must end the line without complaints. It is a major problem if some irate mom complains to the management. The management doesn't care what's fair. They want things to run smoothly and you don't want to be a bump in the road. There are 13 ways to quit in T Myers' book "Making Inflation Work For You."

When I know I am getting close to being done I will ask the last person in line to tell anyone that lines up after them that they are the last one. This works very well. If there are any that still wait, I give each one a color post card of myself.

I saw a twister at a fair make a two balloon twisted pole with a bow on top and give it to the last person that he was going to make an animal for. Then if anyone else tried to get in line he would ask everyone to agree that the person holding that was the last one.

Giving the last person a "I'm the last person in line" sign doesn't always work - kids don't want to be the bad guy and have to tell others that they are last in line. I have been at some fairs where the kids pass the sign to the next person who stands behind them. This could go on forever!

For ending lines on time, I have found that a combination of all these at the same time works:

  1. numbered cards
  2. "last balloon" sign for last person in line to wear
  3. balloon hearts already inflated, ready to hand out
  4. heavy communication and education with the promoter

Preparing all these beforehand is the key.

Numbers on business cards, or just laminated 3X5's with only 1 through 10 on them. This would limit one's waiting list to ten.

Tell the people every 15 minutes of the last hour and every 5 minutes for the last 15 minutes that you will be leaving - i.e. "I will be leaving in one hour! There may be people in line who might not be getting a balloon." This allows some parents to choose to not wait, thereby reducing the line. It also reduces the chances of problems.

When it's time to quit (actually, well before then), I give an uninflated balloon to each person remaining in line as their "ticket" to insure receipt of a sculpture, then loudly announcing every few minutes that the line is closed and unless you have an uninflated balloon in your hand, no amount of begging, pleading ,groveling, or bribery will get you a balloon, as I have another show to go to. If a parent insists at this point, it is too late. I have another job I have to leave for (whether it is true or not).

When the time is up you should have some good lines to fall back on like: "It's my turn to feed the elephants at the circus, and I don't want to be late".

Another technique that works is to fall over dramatically from exhaustion. It usually gets a laugh and sometimes free drinks to help me regain my strength. I wouldn't recommend that if you're getting paid, but if you're just fooling around in a park it works well.

*NEVER* *EVER* let anyone see your balloon supply. You will not get away from kids until it is exhausted. If you do balloon animals between shows, you may never get your show started because the kids will want just one more balloon. (Though it can be a good way to get a crowd of kids for a show if you ask them to wait until after the show.) My solution is to stuff about 20 balloons into every pocket I've got, far from the crowd and well before I start making anything. When I need to exit, I just finish up the balloons from the one pocket I've been most recently working with.

Whenever you are giving away balloons for a client and it comes time to stop when you still a number of children in the line, someone is going to be disappointed. I use a magician change bag (a cloth bag with two sides) and keep 6 balloons in one side and my main stock in the other. When it comes time to stop I open the side with only 6 and say that I have only these left and so to be fair to any one waiting I will ask some questions, the first 6 to answer get them. This seems fair to those waiting and has worked well for me.

The best I've ever heard of is to make a very nice balloon to be raffled off at the end of your time. I usually won't make anyone else a figure like the one I intend to raffle off. I want it to be special and unique. When departure time arrives, you verbally give each person in line a number and grab an impartial passer-by to pick for you. If the ones who didn't win fuss too much about not getting a balloon, offer them a business card, and politely suggest that they might have you out to the house.

Most importantly, never, ever let a person pester you into making "just one more" balloon "for me?!". If you get stuck making "just one more" you could be there for hours. If I get someone who just won't give up, I ask them to tell me my first name. Of course, when they can't, I smile real big, pick up my bag and without uttering a sound, I walk toward the door (when one does guess right, I have them follow me to where I can make them a quick one and not be seen).

To end, I've been thinking of bringing plastic poker chips with me next time. When I get to the point where I want to take a break or end, I'll just hand out the poker chips and take them back for every balloon I do. This way I can satisfy all the people who are waiting in line and control any more that show up afterwards.

At the end of the evening, I sometimes give away my samples. However, I also don't want people to wait for the freebie at the end of the evening. When the samples have been in the sun for hours and are looking a bit shop worn, I quietly pop them and discard the pieces.

I would say you MUST let them know that not everyone will get a balloon. Either that, or be prepared to be the last one to leave. This is where contracts can be very helpful. It should spell out exactly what the customer can expect.

The sculpture to auction has worked very well for me. Figure out some way to let them know you'll be shutting down the line shortly. It takes some of the sting out to be able to say "There will be a drawing for a larger sculpture if you care to wait while I distribute tickets."

If you think you'll have a couple hundred left (without balloons), you might want to consider having several items to give away via a drawing.

I purchased a sign at a clown seminar several years ago. It is plastic, has a long shoelace attached to the top corners so it can be looped over a person's head. It says, "Sorry, I am the end of the line," or something like that. The idea is that you give this to the last person in line to hold or wear, about 15-20 minutes before you plan to leave, depending on the line. You explain to this person that you need to leave soon and ask them to tell anyone who comes up to get in line that you have to leave and they are the last and that you won't be able to make balloons for anyone else that day.

I have used this with mixed results. Usually it works fine. But, there have been a couple times where I looked up to see the line extending, the person with the sign still at the end. The person kept letting people in front, thinking he/she was to remain last.

Other times the line was extending and the person I gave the sign to was NOT at the end. But the sign was at the end - they kept handing it off to newcomers.

Go figure. I mean, I don't hand the sign to small children or anyone who seems "mentally challenged" (is that politically correct?).

What I usually do is switch to very simple figures at the end. I announce that a certain group is *it* - the last who will get to choose the balloons they want. I have the end of the line nearby so I can keep an eye on it and explain the rule to newcomers. If they stay, they get a balloon apple, sword, or "magic flower" (tulip) - my choice, and I make the same for all in that group and explain to newcomers that they will have to come see me another time.

Sometimes I hand out a sticker and shake hands to the ones who discover me just as I'm putting my pump away. Especially if I'm working a group of young kids. They don't get a balloon, but at least they get - something.

Seems you have to make definite rules and be firm about them, or you get people mad at you. Not that you aren't likely to have some mad at you anyway, but at least you've been fair.

I still find it very hard to say no or even "We're closed" to a four-year-old kid with big, tear-filled eyes. I guess that's why I'm the sap working 30 minutes past contract for no extra pay.

Scenario:

Halloween night, 5,000 people, two balloon twisters, and you're trying to go home. You and a partner are paid to twist. The event is in a mall (Halloween trick or treating), and the mall management can not spare any helpers to help end your line. Your line currently has about 50 people (kids and parents) in it. Fortunately, stanchions about 30 feet long have been in place. You appoint a nice friendly father and mother of 4 kids to wear the "last person" sign. Father aborts the position and vanishes. More customers creep into the line.

Solution:

Armed with a handful of carnival tickets and a Cheezo Inflator, I headed to the middle of the line, where the stanchions ended. I handed out about 20 tickets, to the second half of the customers in line. I went to the end of the line. Started twisting, heading for the front of the line, sandwiching the line as my partner twists from the other end. I'm in a sea of people, with a large crowd of people passing me per minute. I keep going with the people who have tickets, twisting only for the people who have tickets.

I state "I'm only twisting for the people who have tickets." No one asks where to get a ticket.

10 mothers came to me insisting on a balloon for their kid. I smile and say, "we're closed." (Don't say no, people don't like to hear it.)

A mono-lingual, elderly Asian woman starts raising her voice to make a balloon for her young child and even starts to take balloons out of my apron. I exercise my male genes, insist she not persist, and step away from her. By now, I have finished about half the tickets.

People crowd around and polarize my partner and me, leaving a hole in the middle of the line, and new customers start to enter the line. I scoot them back out with a fake smile. I grab the horse reins again. I get down to about 15 kids, so I can close the end section of the stanchions. Now only the very persistent will sneak under the stanchions.

About 15 more people sneak under the stanchions. I keep saying "we're closed," but some people insist on getting a balloon. I use short-worded phrases here so I can keep twisting. The best line I found is saying to the unfortunate persisters that "it will not be fair to the many people we have sent away. Plus they will return very angrily if they see me making a balloon for you." Getting down to the end of the line, we were able to have a pleasant ending with no one getting in our face. My lovely balloon partner negotiated a very pleasant announcement stating our departure. Yeehaw!

Ready-made figures also help when it comes time to quit. It is hard to quit when there are still children (or adults) waiting patiently for their turn. A bag full of figures makes it quick and easy.

Near the end of an event, when I have a queue full of parents who are becoming more and more impatient, I find a hand stamp for the kid as they leave does miracles. Sometimes I keep small erasers (I got 500 for $3 in Oriental Trader) to give away in these situations. It seems to help if the kid doesn't walk out empty handed. I also give them to kids who's parents say "no" and they're very disappointed. A lot of times the parent will come back for you later because you did something special to make their kid happy. I use a red one and ask the kid if he wants his palm "red." The little ones don't get it, but I guarantee you'll get some real groans from the adults!

I give my business card to those who I just cannot get to. I ask them to keep the card and show it to me next time they see me and it will put them to the front of the line or the next table. This way, they keep the card longer. If you don't see them again - such is life. If you do see them again, chances are they will hire you for something because they kept your card for so long. Give them special treatment. It may pay off. If anyone complains, I explain my policy. Fair is Fair. People understand.

Promoter To End The Line

We always ask for someone to help us close the line. It avoids a bad situation for us, and the people who hire you appreciate you more when they have to take some of the heat.

I tell the promoter to expect that ending is always difficult, and that one of their staff needs to make announcements 10 minutes and 20 minutes before we are to leave. Promoters can be ready to deal with disgruntled customers because it is their event. Promoters or hosts oftentimes are not ready to hire enough hours for the size of their crowd and can easily deal with disgruntled parents.

The best folks at ending a line that I've ever run into are bookstores! These folks usually have lots of practice ending book signing lines and are thus able to do so with great professionalism. I learned a lot from one that I went to. They had everybody smiling and no hurt feelings, and we got out of there in record time.

I usually try to let either the conditions (darkness, etc.), or my sponsor end the line. Some sponsors are not very good about having someone there to end it, even after being repeatedly asked to do so. I, fortunately (?), have a VOICE that carries well, and I tend to watch the line anyway. I can pick someone at the end of the line and tell them that they are the last ones. I remember them and can police the line from there.

Stopping the line is one of the most frustrating parts of ballooning. Having 2 people is great for breaks and makes everything easier but if the crowd is big, they can out-last you. If you have an opportunity to negotiate a job, try to get someone else to be the bad guy. Get a security guy or just a volunteer to show up at specific times and stand at the end of the line and tell people the line is closed. Try to keep the negative as far away as possible.

Have an official from the festival turn people away. I always tell someone in authority that they will need to come and cut off the line for me. I explain to them that I can't say no to anybody without hurt feelings, but people are very understanding when someone else intervenes on my behalf.

I have the event organizer conduct a drawing for me. This gives me a chance to pack up and actually be gone by the time the drawing is over. This is a great ending for birthday parties, too. It shows off what you can do (more business elsewhere) and is a great value-added item to help close the sale in the first place.

I put in my contract that the person/company that hires me is responsible for closing the line ON TIME. Isf they do not close the line, then I charge double my fee, for every 15 minutes I stay beyond the pre-paid/agreed ending time, due and payable immediately after the event, or additional penalties will be incurred. So far.....I have NEVER had to charge the fee. (I guess you could also...just...OOPS! Run out of balloons! Oh! Darn! Silly me....no more balloons tonight, I'm so sorry, here is my card, give me a call for your next party and I'll make it up to you =-)

How They End The Line at the Whitehouse

Every year, the Whitehouse (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington,D.C.) invites twisters to make balloons for the annual Easter egg-roll on the south lawn, from 8:00am to 3:00pm. Here's how they end the line at the White House:
...We were to quit at 3:00pm and at 1:00pm. The wait was well over 3 hours. We took turns on the half-hour to walk the line and inform the crowd that we WERE leaving at 3:00pm. The line just kept getting longer. At 2:00pm,things were getting scary. We got very worried, to say the least. At 2:30pm a secret service man walks up and asks how much longer we'd be. We explained it all to him. He leaned over to my ear and whispered,"Would you like to quit now?" in query, not command.

"Yes." I responded.

He announced "This will be the last balloon the guys will be doing. I'll need everyone else to leave the South Lawn immediately."

One lady piped up, "I've waited OVER 3 hours! I'm not going anywhere without MY balloon!"

Trench-coat touched the microphone at his shoulder and said into it, "I need 8 people on the South Lawn immediately." Then he raised his hand. AT LEAST A DOZEN came from all points of the compass headed in our direction.

He looked that lady right in the eye and said, "Madam?"

Within 2 minutes the yard was empty! The agent turned to us and said, "Can I get a clown balloon for my little girl?"

I'd have made him anything in the world, even if he weren't packing full-auto iron! Yes, I made his little girl a clown balloon, and thanked him over and over again.

John, The Balloon Man.

Single Or Multi-Balloon Creations

You can make these wonderful elaborate creations, but people just want a little something to take home for their kids not something grand. If I've got 30 or 40 kids waiting, I will obviously not be doing that many of my 4 or 5 balloon beauties.

On the other hand, often I am hired to provide musical entertainment, and, if there are just a few kids, I'll surprise the host and make something special for each during breaks or speeches. They are usually amazed that I can twist too.

What sets me apart from other balloon twisters in the area is my ability to make elaborate and RECOGNIZABLE creations. It is this ability that got me into the 14 McDonald's that I twist in. The kids are patient and will wait up to 1/2 hour for a multi balloon creation. The owners of McD tell me that they like me BECAUSE I don't just make those 1 balloon poodles and giraffes. They like the fact that their customers are going home with a real piece of art.

Nothing wrong with one balloon anythings, but multi stuff has opened a heck of a lot of doors to me..including the door to my imagination.... My problem hasn't been that folks don't want them.....it's in balancing the "value" of each one ( especially among a group of kids ), so I don't seem to be playing favorites..and to keep the potential arguments that I don't always see but can imagine happening... "mine's better, it uses 4 ballooons" "ohh yaaa...well mine really shoots".....

Last week my friend was working at a fair and she used the line approach, made fast, cute things, made a lot of kids happy, and made a lot of money. Someone else was there making more elaborate creations. My friend made leaps and bounds more money. So, while the one crowd was entertained and wowed by the expertise of the elaborate creations, the money went to the one who entertained each child one by one and presented each child, one by one, with a balloon.

Three of us were twisting together, being paid by the company for an open house to show off their new building. We were making elaborate things, and the lines were long. I announced we were starting an express lane one balloon figures. Two or three kids got in the express lane, 40 or 50 chose to wait the half hour in line to get something bigger. After I finished the few single balloons, I again started helping with the other line. I did this more than once and, it worked well.

Working for tips (on the street), I try to give the greatest "value" in the least amount of time, so almost everything is a two-balloon creation, usually a dog/bear/cat/sword on a leash/heart/hat/belt, the most "commercial" combinations. One of them demonstrates twisting skills, the other quickly makes it play big. I usually get a C-shell per figure, so I average 50 C-shells per hour at Underground Atlanta (when there's traffic) using this rule of thumb. If I make something big, everybody wants one, and I'll still probably only get a C-shell. Even if I get more, it's not worth it, as the people waiting a half hour in line are not easily entertained by a multiple-balloon sculpture for someone in front of them. If it's slow, I can make bigger sculptures to promote my abilities, entertain my customers, and entertain myself. Anything goes when the atmosphere is relaxed, which is not usually the case in this location.

In the restaurants I work, multiple balloon hats are very popular, but it's the fully inflated balloons with few twists that work the best (thank you, T. Myers). Show-off sculptures are fun, but I'll do that only if there's one child at the table, and again, if it's not too busy.

Just common sense to me... One has to decide for himself the proper ratios among quality, quantity, entertainment, and customer satisfaction for each environment, venue, or circumstance.

You spend 3-4 times longer to make multiple balloon sculptures.

Not in my case. Multi's take me no more than 2-3 minutes each. And it is nice to spend a little time with each child instead of rushing them through the line. It's all a matter of style.

How often does the extra time, balloons, and effort expended in large multi- balloon creations result in a proportional tip?

My own experience has been that animals and simple hats result in more bucks-per-minute. That is, most folks see a dollar as the standard tip, whether I give their child a wiener dog or an enormous duck on a bicycle.

I only do the elaborate stuff, and I make much more money than when I do the simple stuff. The reason is that if you make big stuff as part of a show, more than one person will tip you for the creation you've made. I'd rather have a crowd of 20, each person willing to give 1 C-shell for the entertainment they witnessed while I worked on a sculpture for 10 minutes than make 20 quick sculptures in twice the time, getting money from each person as they get their sculpture. I'd be bored to tears if I had to be a balloon factory. This goes for festivals that I get paid to work too. If a family of 4 can walk away with one really cool thing that takes the same amount of time to make as 4 small things, I've enjoyed myself a lot more, and I've impressed more people.

I agree that smaller balloons generate more tips per minute, but on the other hand, the multi's will bring more attention, jobs and recognition. On the average when I work for tips I make the same or less than the guy down the street making one balloon animals, but on the other hand I have an incredible private party business. Not only do I book birthday parties almost every night, but I have landed some HUGE corporate. It pays off, believe me!

A very difficult issue is that of avoiding becoming a balloon factory. It's tempting. But rest assured that many kids, if not most, will derive the most true joy from the process of acknowledgment and wonder that the process creates, even if they experience it vicariously, rather than actually having a dog or cat to take home. My personal prejudice is that those individuals least able to appreciate the distinction are precisely the ones most likely to benefit from the lesson, regardless of age or "caste" level.

I refuse to be a balloon machine and just pump out balloons. I make sure that the child I'm doing the balloon for gets a minute or two of special attention from me. The people that employ me see a lot of happy little faces, which leads to many return bookings. The only grouches by the way, are some parents who complain to me that they've been waiting so long for a balloon and that I should make only a single balloon for each child instead of a multiple. My usual comeback? That's a great idea. You don't mind if I start with your child's balloon, do you? They never say yes.

When working festivals I find just the fact that I am making twisted balloons draws a crowd, and they all want to watch; the more intricate, the bigger the crowd. I occasionally time them and they will stand in line for up to 45 minutes. If there is no one around, I just start making my 9 balloon ant, and the people just start crowding.

I don't make something really elaborate at the start, unless I am willing to make them for every one there, because chances are every one will want one too!

We have to make a choice between being artists or being paid performers. If you want the money, you sometimes have to do what's necessary. If that means doing away with the fancy stuff in favor of simple sculptures, in the process satisfying three times as many people, do it. If you only want to do fancy artistic sculptures, make sure the client knows that ahead of time. Also make sure they are aware that this means you may only do 20 balloons in an hour's time, and that the rest of the people may be disppointed. This is a big mistake people in our line of work make. If we want to twist to please ourselves, we might do so for free at a park; if we are engaged to twist by a client, we are obligated to give them what they want, even if it means swallowing a little pride. If we can't deal with that, we shouldn't take the gig.

It's faster to make a fancy, impressive, tip-inducing, multi-balloon creation than it is to make a very artistic and skillfully executed one-balloon figure (like kissing teddy-bears). Hobbyists like myself really enjoy seeing what can be done with a single balloon, but if a multi-balloon critter pulls in bigger tips faster, that might be a better investment in your time and materials, and you might consider this as you look at the wide variety of instruction books available. At a school fair, I get more visibility and mileage from huge, simple hats and parrots on the shoulder than I do with my elegant (and moderately difficult) toucan.

When doing multi-balloon stuff, have the victim, er, uh, I mean the person you are making the hat/figure for, hold the balloons as you inflate them and begin twisting. It helps you keep track of WHO, in the sea of faces, you are supposed to be interacting with. It also makes that person feel special, and part of the show. EVERYONE smiles (adults and kids) when, with their arms stuffed with balloons, they are waiting for the artist to create something for THEM out of thin air.

Giving Customers A Choice

Giving the customer the choice is an important part of my approach to twisting. The advantage of giving the choice to the customer is that you will have a happy customer. The down part may be limiting the choices, but you probably do that in a crank 'em out situation anyway.

Choice just seems important to me in terms of people feeling like you are treating them all the same. It seems that not giving a choice is setting yourself up for a disappointed customer. Having the kid say, "But I wanted...." is the last thing I want to have happen. If I am working for tips I want them to be happy, and I think giving them a choice is important. I try to look at it as if I were waiting in line for a balloon. It is so easy and efficient to work with a menu and avoid all that. Tom Myers

Regarding choice, I like to give people a choice if they know what they want. However, I've noticed if one person wants a Lion with a mouse (or whatever I happen to do for one kid), then the next 5 kids want a lion with a mouse. That can get pretty boring for me. So I have been asking the kids "do you know what you want or would you like a surprise?" Half of the time they pick the surprise. That's when I can get creative and have fun, and I don't turn into a production machine so much. After all - who doesn't like surprises? My husband tries not to give a choice because if he does the same balloon twice he complains of being bored. His stuff is fantastic though that no one complains - they all get awesome pieces. We can't all do this, so when it comes to performing and twisting style, to each his own.

Ever have this happen: "After I made the first XXXXX, I was stuck making them for everybody" ? Don't you just hate the "me too" syndrome? It murders young imaginations. I try to avoid this with "the imagination game." "Everyone has to think of something that no one else has thought of yet so that we'll have as many different balloon figures as possible. If someone asks for what you were thinking of, you have to quickly imagine something else."

Then there is the mom who has so very little faith in the imagination of her offspring that she must whisper to tell them to ask for a dog! "Any mom caught helping will get to blow up all the balloons!" I get good support from the kids on this one:-)

When I've just finished making something for one child and the next one says that they want the same thing I say, "Sure, no problem!" Then I snatch the balloon out of child A's hand and place it in child B's hand. < beat, beat > "Ohhhhh, that's not what you meant?" Giving back balloon to child A. The adults also get a big kick out of this one. (After all, you have to entertain the adults too. They are the ones PAYING for you. Besides I've found that the more the adults laugh, the better the chance of you getting a FAT tip.)

When I'm in front of large groups, I limit choices to about nine or ten different things. For small groups, I get very creative.

Run a guessing competition as to what your sculpture is going to be. Have an assistant hide a balloon mouse whenever you make snakes or cats (be sure to make your assistant a "Super-Duper, Really Spectacular, Very Colorful, and Extremely Silly Looking, Helpers Hat). Get the kids to spell their name as you write it on their sculpture.

One of the most important aspects has to be making the sculpture right in front of a child, and letting him choose the color. Then he is involved in the sculpting process... "That guy and I made this balloon". I have tried selling figures made in advance. Only once did someone put down a ticket and take one of the sculptures I had made up in advance. Even when I was requested to make a white rabbit, and offered the white rabbit that was in front of me, they wanted a new one made. It is not just the balloon itself that people enjoy. It is seeing it made. Helping to make the balloon by choosing color just adds to that enjoyment. Get them to show off what they know about different animals, the kinds of fur, skin, or scales that different animals have, where they live, what they eat, etc. As you talk about an animal, make it. Have them describe the animal to you in order to "help" make it. Compare different animals and talk about what was different between the ones you made and the real ones they've seen.

I find that many kids are happy with "personalized" balloons. When they ask for something less common, I often make them think that they're putting me on the spot and forcing me to dream up some method of creating whatever it is they asked for. (This is often what's happening, which can make it quite a bit easier to convince them of this. :-) When this does happen it becomes as much of a game to see if they can stump me as a way to get their own balloon, and they don't seem to care who gets what. When someone does succeed in stumping me, they just enjoy it and laugh at me when all I make is a dog that's completely out of proportion. As an aside, the parents never understand that I like the game, and they don't need to feel sorry for the abuse the kids are putting me through.

I try to make anything they ask for that requires one balloon. If they ask for something bigger and there's no crowd around me, I make it. While I'm twisting, I draw attention. If there is a crowd around me, I point out it will take a while and I'd like everyone to get something. If they want to wait until the crowd dies down, which rarely happens, they can get what they want. They usually either ask for something else or put a larger bill in the hat. Most don't know what they want and you can suggest things and get away with dogs, swords and simple hats. I like doves and swans because they're quick. Hats are actually best since they'll get worn and not handled. They're less likely to pop. They'll also be seen a lot more on someone's head. This is good advertising for you.

If you have your colors separated and easily accessible, then I would offer them a color choice.

If they have a color in mind, they usually let me know. If the child asks, I do give them a choice. It's important to keep those little guys happy, or they may just end up "accidentally" popping it to get what they really wanted in the first place. I keep them separated in my apron for ease of getting to the correct color if need be. This "philosophy" works well (in my experiences with using it) when doing balloons in a situation where you are not being paid for each specific balloon. I would think if you were, then allowing them choice of sculpture and color would be even more important. After all they are paying for it. I wouldn't want someone to give me an orange soda if what I came to buy was a Pepsi, just because the lever was a bit closer or more convenient for them to reach.

I do not pre-sort my balloons, so I carry them in a big bright pink basket. To keep the line moving as quickly as possible, I ask the next couple of kids in line to decide what they want and to pick out their balloon(s).

Balloon art is a fickle thing. People want quality, and they want it in 30 seconds or less. Parents dont want to wait 15 minutes even for a free gift that will bring a smile to the child... but they will wait 6 hours and circle around the block for a tickle-me Elmo, or some other trendy thing that will upstage the neighbors. They will get in a sleeping bag and camp on the sidewalk all night for the chance to BUY a ticket to a popular concert. This is what we often hear from a parent..."just make anything, it doesn't matter." It's sad to me when they don't take a moment to realize that the child does have an opinion, and that if they stop a moment and look, they will see the light beaming from the little one's face when they recieve the gift that truly touches them.

I really like to empower kids. When I suggest a pink "whatever" to a young girl she is pleased that I read her mind - I'm a girl too, so I know that girls like pink. But I give her a choice of light pink or dark pink "violet."

I've described my balloon display stick previously. When working at a venue where I am stationary, I put samples on the stick in the colors that I like - purple for dinosaurs, dark blue for airplanes, white for rabbits, etc. I sell the sample from this stick, but if the child wants one in another color, I ask what color and make the creation to order.

If asked for a specific color, I can usually find it without too much fuss. And sometimes I make a giant production out of finding the color that I purposely can't seem to find. I've spent a good 10 minutes involving several tables of kids and adults that I enlist to "hold this for me a second, will ya?" while I dash around pulling colors out of my pocket trying to find, say, yellow. And then when I do, I get applause for finally finding it!!!

As a tips only twister, because I'm being paid by the person for whom I make the sculpture (or the adult with the money in his hand) I'm more inclined to be accommodating. And I'm more elaborate with the sculptures I make. When I do these jobs, I do stock and wear an apron with separated colors. And I still emphasize the entertainment aspect as much as I can, but it doesn't get as 'goofball' and I don't feel that I'm as free to be as outrageous as I get as a clown.

Another area to give a child a choice is with the color of the balloon stick or leash. I ask the child, "What color _______ balloon do you want?" Then I ask, "And what color stick do your want?" It puts the child in the driver's seat, and they always have an opinion. When I make a ladybug or a turtle I ask, "Do you want to wear it on your wrist, or do you want it on a stick?" When working mostly with adults, I usually choose the stick color, but many of them want a specific color too.

Not Giving Customers A Choice

I have heard of a twister who limits the choice by only offering a dog or a rabbit in pink or purple. If you are getting a buck a figure and the line never quits, this approach makes some sense. He is reported to be very fast. I imagine he makes the rules pretty clear and the kids are happy. As he gets more competition he will have to deal with kids going, "But I wanted...."

I never worry about colors. In almost all cases I just insist on them taking whatever color I pull out. It's easier/faster that way.

I prefer the custom balloon approach, but I know too many twisters who give no choice. Usually when zero choice is given it's because the twister's skill level or ability to create on the spot is lacking in some way - NOT always, but that's just what I've noticed. I never want my twisting to become a job. I occasionally pump out the balloons like a quick little factory, but I love this art and would rather make a little (or a lot) less $$$$$ than to have my artistic medium become a "job".

About silent characters: I do a Charlie Chaplin act-alike. He is VERY popular at adult reception-style events. People don't seem to mind that they get no choice in balloons (well, unless they speak up before Charlie starts twisting). In one hour of work I probably twist no more that 15 figures... again, entertainment being the key. I have done Charlie for children and family audiences, and they respond warmly to him... BUT his silence keeps children from requesting what they really want twisted. (Of course, silence may work for other folks differently....)

How do you handle requests for sculptures not in your inventory? When I get a request for an animal I haven't made before, I think a minute and see if I can figure out a reasonable facsimile. I'll give it a try, and gauge my results. I always give the customer a chance to decide whether it's right or not (I'm always more critical than they are). If we both agree that it isn't what we were after, I'll apologize and make another balloon (something particularly clever or cool). I'm mostly successful when I improvise something, so I'd encourage you to try too.

If I get a request that I don't know how to fulfill, I say "well I've never made that before, what a GREAT suggestion. Thanks! Tell you what.... Let me make you a ______ and I promise I will go out and learn how to do what you are requesting and be able to do it for you next week!" It makes them feel great they have given you a new idea, AND keeps them coming back to the restaurant for another week as well as adds to your repertoire. You have a whole week then to either find out from the WONDERFUL Balloon HQ mailing list and/or guide or whatever other sources you may look into or simply design your own model of their request.

If I'm unsure of how to make something, I like to have the kid help me make one on the spot. Instant gratification! I use this mostly with the dinosaurs. I'm not a big dinosaur fan, so I can't keep them straight. "Is the teradactyl the one with the big hind legs and the little front ones? No? Wings, you say. How 'bout like this?" The kids will let you know just what they want. And if they suggested it, I'm off the hook. So I just check with them as I go along. I find it's surprising how forgiving the imagination of a child can be. A few kids are not satified, but then you can fall back on the "I'll learn it for next time approach."

A little girl may be happy to have any figure she can get but everything is relative. If she sees someone else's and likes it better, she is disappointed. Evidence of this is someone who wants to trade in their balloon for something else. She may feel it is her right because she didn't get what she wanted. You will get less of this kind of reaction with a menu. You can make a rule, "No Trade Ins" but it doesn't stop picky little girls from being disappointed. How do you guys that don't give a choice deal with this type of situation?

I have found it better not to ask the kids what color they want unless you have them sorted. They seem to take forever to decide.

If you are taking your balloons out of a mixed bag, then I would not give them a color choice. Besides waiting for them to choose, you are also wasting time digging for a purple. We normally have ours separated and organized, so I will give them a choice (usually only the older children). If they hesitate at all, I will suggest a color. 90% of the time they will agree with my suggestion.

It doesn't take long until you get tired of digging for that one color when using assorted balloons. Plus it takes a lot of time away that you could use making $$$.

When I'm in clown, I work out of my pockets, out of a bag of assorteds. I also carry a bag with an assortment of specialty balloons I like to use. I purchase the solids not in the assortment and mix some with the assorteds in case I want to make that certain sculpture. When making specific characters, I do use the colors that would make them realistic. Unless a child says they want a specific color when I get the request, I make whatever color strikes my fancy, or for that matter, the color I happen to have the most of that day.

If there isn't a request for a certain color, then I pick the color and spend the time I might take getting a color choice talking to my kid about 'stuff', like, "wow, a sword? Here, let me make you a red one cuz if you cut off someone's head it won't stain the blade! You're not cutting anyone's head off are ya? Cuz if ya do, well, let me tell ya what happened the last time...SHEESH! Everyone was cutting everyone's head and next thing ya know there was blood all over the carpet and they had to have the cleaners come out and PHOOOOEY! what a mess!!! So if ya don't wanna get in trouble, well, trust me, ya just better not!"....By this time I'm done with a sword, and probably a belt and I'm ready to move on.

I focus on the entertainment as well as the balloons. The restaurants I work keep me because I'm fast and I get to as many kids as I possibly can, entertaining a broader spectrum as I go. I realize that it's nice to personalize by giving color choices, but I think I'll be remembered more for the time spent entertaining than for having offered a color choice. As a clown I am paid by the restaurants and accept tips as just that... people appreciating the entertainment and work that I do, and I'm blessed.

You may also find that the first figure you make is sometimes the figure everybody wants. Don`t be afraid to impose a figure on someone. It it looks good, they will accept it, and it may prevent you from having to do the same figure all afternoon.

For your average twister (like myself), who often creates one-balloon variations on dogs, color choice is not a big issue. I like having the option of twisting something in grey or brown, but I always fall back on the Doug Henning-esque 'magic world of balloons"' routine. In the magic world of balloons, everything can be any happy color it wants to be. All it takes is a little im-magic-nation!

What wouldn't I make? I wouldn't make Christ on the Cross, because I can't see how that can be done with the proper respect and dignity. I don't do Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles, because I don't like the hypocritical message of "do everything you can to avoid a fight, then kick ass without consequences." I wouldn't make sexually explicit (or anatomically correct) balloons, because they embarrass me. I don't make Teletubbies because... well, *ick*. But there are those who don't have a problem with any of these types of sculpture, and more power to them.

The logical extension to the question is, how do I handle it when someone asks for a balloon that I consider offensive? Simple: I just don't know how to do it. I don't refuse on moral grounds, I don't judge them harshly for asking, I just say, "Mmm, mmm, mmm, nope, I haven't got a clue how that would be done."

Of course, this is easy for someone like me who twists a camel and the kid yells "What a great ostrich!" Once again, displaying too much competence can get you into trouble. I mean, after you've just twisted the Sistine Chapel (complete with painted ceiling and all of those sculptures of saints), it's hard to say you can't twist a Power Ranger. I've had years of practice playing dumb (okay, I've actually had years of practice trying to play smart), so I can usually fake my way out of these situations.

Learn to do balloon sculpture with your eyes closed. If a child asks for a shark (for example), and you do not know how to make a shark, act like you do, and make him a bunny. Your eyes will be closed so there is apparently no way that you could know what the shark is turning out to be.

Menus

Menus You Make

A lot of twisters have a "balloon menu" - basically a poster with pictures of balloon sculptures. More people will ask for simpler things if that's what they see. You'll be able to satisfy them faster, at the risk of getting bored.

One of the best ways that I have found to handle crowds is to use a menu board. T. Myers sells cut-outs of the most popular figures and hats that you can mount on a board, color, label, and then have the board laminated. If you have a bit of talent in the drawing area, you can create drawings like the ones T. has for any animals or other figures that T. does not supply. I have several different boards made up. I only use these when the line seems to get longer with each hour that goes by. I try to place the menu board a short way down the line from where I am. That way 99% of the kids that get to the front of the line already know what the want by name. Give real fancy names to the animals or hats or sculptures on the menu board. Kids get a real kick out of asking for a balloon with a fancy name. I also slip into my patter some mention of the board so that people waiting in line will look for it as they get to the front of the line. Some of the lines that I find myself using are:

I've used menus for a long time. I take a landscape position 8 1/2 x 11 and divide it into 4 columns and list the balloons that I want to make. On the back side I put an ad for myself. They sort of look like bookmarks. I pass them out as I approach a table. WARNING. Don't put every balloon that you make on the list. If you list them all, they will be there forever trying to decide. I don't use drawings. I like to have the people be surprised at what it will look like. T Myers clipart book is good for advertising and decoration.

I also have a large 8 1/2 x 11 menu called Balloons Du Jour with everything I can make for special occasions.

I've been thinking about the same thing. Here's what I've decided to do: Get one of those lightweight tripods that we use here at the office for easel pads. There are some that are very compact and still quite sturdy. Make up several posters with a limited amount on each poster (say 20 or so). Take all the posters with you. Put them all on the easel with just one showing. When you need a change. Put the front poster in the back and continue...working off the second poster. This way, you get the best of both worlds. Lots of variety, but speedy decision making.

I had a sign that holds magnets. Took the self sticking magnets (like you can attach on business cards ) and made little signs with all the balloon figures I wanted to make tonight. The kids chose from the sign and I made them. When I got tired of making a particular figure, I removed it from the sign and stuck it on the back of the board for a while. If I was making too many of one item, I would remove it from the list. It allowed for variety throughout the night.

I have a printer so I like to make up menus with about 12 things for each holiday with my company name on them. On occasion I've also done coloring pages for the kids with me and some of my favorite balloon characters in them. It's something for them to take home.

Have a balloon menu that has different headings like: WORTH SOMETHING, WORTH A LITTLE MORE, WORTH A LOT MORE, WORTH THE MOST. It's a subtle way of telling people that different balloons cost more.

I have wanted to have a balloon menu card for some time now but haven't been able to afford T-Myers. I finally came up with an easy and cheap way to do it. I took pictures of all my balloon creations, scanned them, and used print shop (you can use any Word Perfect system) to make a *picture* menu. I have the name under the picture. This will help the little folk who can't read because they can point to the picture. And it will help the big folk who want to know what it will look like before they get it.

  1. Check out the board for which animal you would like to "adopt."
  2. See the zoo board for the wild animal of your choice.
  3. I have a board with many different choices on it, or you can ask for one that you do not see.
  4. I call them 'pets,' ready for adoption.

These lines (and variations on them) will result in people (of all ages) knowing what they want when they get to the front of the line. I usually say them loud enough so that the next 5-8 people in line can hear me. Most kids catch-on really quick. It's the adults that you will have problems with.

Giving them what they want from a menu of what I want to make for the situation gives us both a choice. The choice is limited on both sides, but, to them, it still seems like a lot. I also push the menu toward Big Fast Easy because of "color and motion in the air" and all that.

I like to work with a menu poster. It makes everything easier.

The easiest way to offer a choice is with a menu. It really speeds things up if your customers know what they want by the time you are ready for them. The size of the menu should fit the situation.

Menus You Wear

A vest or shirt with balloons airbrushed on it would help the clients pick out what balloon figures they want. If you can't understand their language, they can just point, and you don't have to carry an extra picture-sign around that you have to set up. If it's reversible, you could "stop advertising" when you finish twisting. Maybe have it made with little boxes here and there in every balloon color, so clients could point at a box for color and a figure for shape and never have to say a word.

A friend had an airbrush artist do this and it worked out well. (The only problem was that clients kept asking him to turn around). My friend had to sit down with the artist and twist one of each figure. The artist ended up running out of room on the shirt, but if you need a simple menu and your designs aren't too complicated, it can work for you. It advertises your art and gives a choice all in one outfit, and you don't have to carry a menu.

I've seen a couple of menus you wear. Dan Murphy and Daniel White, friends and twisters here in Austin, TX, colored poster stickers (now as Twisted Figure Clip Art) and took them to a color copy place. They had color iron on copies made and ironed them onto white cotton shirts, sweaters and pants. Besides interest in the balloons they get asked where that print can be found.

There is a guy in Europe who uses tape to stick animals all over his coat. People choose from what he is wearing.

When they see certain types of balloons in other people's hands they'll tell you, "I want one of those," and point to the balloon. At one event, I made a parrot and put it one a child's shoulder. Within 5 minutes, everyone in my line requested a parrot and I made mostly parrots the rest of the evening.

Pictures of animals around you offer helpful suggestions to the crowd. Children who can't think of anything will request whatever picture they see, so a dog or a cat on your t-shirt will help.

Menus You Marry

My wife acted as my business manager which really helped out a lot. As I was sculpting one balloon she was going through the hemmm and hawww ritual with the next child over type and color. When I finished she just told me the next one to make. Saved a lot of time.

Balloon Display Stands

One More Please

There's no possible way that you can make decent quality looking balloon animals for 200+ people, AND their kids at home, and ones for their their aunt Mathilda who's coming to visit next Groundhog's Day, and their sister Bertha's twins who won't be born until July, etc.... People who want something "to take home for the kids" aren't interested in being entertained; they want it fast and now, and you most definitely become a balloon machine. Setting boundaries just has to happen in those cases. A good line to use is: "I don't do 'take-out'"

What I do when adults/kids want more than one balloon.. I tell them that the first one is free.. next one will cost $50.00. That stops them: I've never had any one pay 50 bucks! I give more if it's a small crowd. I explain to the person who hires me about how long it would take to give each person several balloons, and that they might have some irate customers/clients if I can't get to everyone. This way I'm happy, the person paying me is happy, and ALL their people are happy.

Customers often ask me for a second balloon for someone who is "back home". I usually reply with, "I really need to concentrate on making balloons for those in line behind you, or I may not have enough for everyone." Most of the time this works out. The customer will look at the line and realize I have a job to do and thank me for what I did make them.

Worked an event at which I was told to expect about 250 kids over a period of several hours. Once there, I found myself confronted with about twice the number I had anticipated. Here's what I said: "Boys and girls, I will gladly make a balloon for each of you, but you must have your Mom or Dad stand in line with you! If you have not had a balloon yet, please step to the front. If you've had a balloon and would like another, I'll be happy to make one for you after these children get theirs.'' It worked pretty well in two ways. First, it kept the number of kids down, since most parents did not want to come back and wait in line an infinite number of times. Second, parents are who I "sell" to. If I place a business card in a parent's hand, there is a reasonable chance it will be kept until it is needed. Hand a card to a kid, and it will be lost in five minutes.

I have worked many company picnics in a very busy local park. Because I'm hired for only a certain amount of hours I'm told to make balloons for "only their kids." I supply them with tickets. In order to get a balloon you have to have a ticket. This way if someone comes to me without a ticket I explain that I am here for a private party and have been instructed to make balloons for only children with tickets. Sometimes I am allowed to tell people where they can get a ticket. This way if the people who hired me feel that most of their kids have had balloons they will pass out tickets at their discretion. This has worked great for me.

For more tips on dealing with kids that want more than one balloon, see the Dealing With Greedy Kids section in the children's chapter.

What To Do When You Don't Use A Line

I generally have the rule that "little people" go first, because they have a harder time waiting. This goes over well with the adults, as Mom doesn't want to balance that four-year-old on her hip any longer than she has to and Dad's little darling is starting to get whiny and not enjoying the experience of seeing the clown. "Who is next-tallest?" You can make exceptions when a brother or sister is standing there with them.

I've read many references to encouraging kids to form a line, and I suppose if you were charging for balloons you could do something like that. I do balloons free, or paid by the house, and try to approach it on strictly a one on one basis. I normally always start with the youngest, and state my policy to that effect. Then I select one child and fully engage that child with my attention. If another child is pushy, and very arrogant, I firmly tell the child that they must wait their turn, that I don't know how long it will take, but that I will serve all of the younger children first. That seems to separate the obnoxious and selfish kids I have no interest in from the kind hearted ones who will stay just to "see the show", and those more patient kids I'll engage and involve in the process, as they encourage, and often parrot my patter to the younger kids. I continue to make figures for any other kids in that group, usually two to four kids, either family or friends, and then turn to the next patient and polite group I've noticed. It ain't much of a way to run a business but its a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

How to choose which child to give a balloon to next: The most obedient. The quietest. The nicest.......... The one that your heart tells you to choose. They may be in a home where no love is shown, or worse. They may need that added affirmation of being chosen next. They may even be the worst acting of the lot, but if your heart says, "This one's next.", pick him/her! You'll be glad that you did.


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