How to Create Anticipation
How do you make your message more interesting? You’re often told to tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell it, and then tell them that you told them. But that’s not very interesting because it doesn’t have suspense.
As Nick Morgan says, “the difference between a story and an anecdote is the presence of conflict.” Rather than tell, we need to reveal. Suspense creates anticipation around what the answer might be, which automatically gets people more involved in what you’re saying.
When we’re putting messages together, it’s critical to figure out how to put conflict into place. The format of the Red Thread can help you because you’re always looking for what the problem is that’s getting in the way of the goal. When you’re looking at your message, ask yourself: are you giving away what you want people to do too soon?
There was a little girl who was about to go on a long journey, on a cruise ship with her family. And after they’d unpacked and got everything ready, they decided to explore the decks a bit. But while they were doing that there was a man who noticed the little girl, and he kept looking at her, and eventually came over to the parents and said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to bring your little girl and come with me.”
And they had no idea what this was all about, but they soon found out, because that man was the ship’s doctor, and what he had seen in the little girl were the early signs of a very serious and very contagious disease, which obviously you can’t have on a cruise ship if everybody’s going to go and be on it for a little while. So he told the parents really horrible news. He said, “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to take everything that you’ve got on the ship, pack it up, and take it away. And you’re not going to be able to sail today.”
This was the last day, they were about to leave. And they were heartbroken, and they just couldn’t believe that their dreams for this journey were over. But a few days later, their perspective on the entire episode completely changed. Why? Because a few days later, that ship sank; it was the Titanic.
Now that’s an awesome story, and that version of it is one that I first heard from a colleague of mine, a master storyteller named D. R. Carlson. The amazing thing about it was that D.R. followed that story by telling me how he had first heard it. Now how did he first hear it, and what does that have to do with any of this? Well, stay tuned, and we’ll talk about just that. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com, and this is Find the Red Thread.
D.R. first heard that story from that little girl’s grandson, after he was grown and accomplished in his career. But as D.R. explained it, the way the story originally came out, was something more like, “Hey, I’ve got this cool fact about my family, my grandmother was about to sail on the Titanic, and then they kicked her off because she was sick.”
Now, that’s really different than the way that we first heard that story, isn’t it? And in that is something that we need to understand, and can benefit from, for how we make even marketing messages more interesting. And I need to take academia to task a little bit here, because in the course of teaching us how to explain things to people, they, in fact, taught us a way to explain things that isn’t very interesting, that doesn’t have suspense. Why is that important? Well, as my coach and mentor, Nick Morgan, says, that the difference between a story and an anecdote, the difference between the first version of the Titanic story and the second one, is the presence of conflict.
In the first Titanic story, you didn’t know what was happening, you didn’t know why they were getting kicked off the boat. Second story, you already know it was the Titanic, there was nothing interesting there. And yet, think about how we’re often told how to explain things. We’re usually told: tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them that you told them. And that’s not wrong, in and of itself, but understand, any time we do that we are exchanging the second story of the Titanic, for the first. We are telling people that their grandmother sailed on the Titanic, rather than revealing that information and having them listen the whole way.
The reason that’s so important is that that suspense creates that anticipation of what the answer might be. It automatically gets people more involved in what you’re saying. Which is why it’s so critical when we’re putting messages together to figure out how can we put that conflict into place. This is one of those places where the format of the Red Thread, the pieces of it, will help you automatically, because you’re always looking for what is that problem that’s getting in the way of the goal. And when you put your messages together in that way, you start with the goal, you explain the problem, you reveal a new piece of information, the idea, and then tell them the change, then you tell them, “Hey, it was the Titanic!” Then you’ve got them much, much more engaged, and much more in that space of agreement that we’ve talked about before, than they would otherwise be.
So when you’re looking at some message that you’ve developed, or some presentation that you’ve developed, look and see whether or not you are giving away the thing that you want people to do too soon. Are you telling them right away that this is the change that I want you to make? Because remember, if we do that, that might create that psychological reactance, which we’ve also talked about before. Instead, think about how can I tell them what I’m going to tell them, in a different way? How can I create that suspense? How can I make sure that I’m not putting the Titanic, too early? I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. Now, go find your Red Thread.