Leave Clues for Your Conclusion
In Ancient Greek theater, an actor suspended from a crane playing a god would swoop in at the end to resolve the plot. From this, we have the concept of deus ex machina, “god from the machine.” While this is certainly an exciting way to tie up the loose ends of a story, we run into problems when we save a key idea or piece of information for the end to get that big “ah ha” moment.
The thing we need to understand is that our audience wants to be engaged in our message the entire way through. In fact, they like to do some work, to be an amateur detective and see if they can guess where something is going. This is why structuring your message around the Red Thread works because it helps you make sure that you’re giving your audience the information they need to get to their own version of your conclusion. You need to think like a mystery writer: drop clues throughout your talk so you can get that moment of insight by framing everything in a new way at the end for a big finish.
If you want help finding your Red Thread, check out RedThreadWeekend.com, where you can find info on upcoming Red Thread Weekend events. We’ll work together in small groups and one-on-one with Tamsen to find and shape your own powerful Red Thread.
In ancient Greek theater, there was a technique they used where suspended from a crane above the stage was an actor playing a god. And in the late stages of a story or a play, this god would come in to disrupt everything that had been happening so far and provide a nicely tied up solution. From this, we have the theatrical concept called deus ex machina, literally “god from the machine,” in this case the crane. And while that could’ve been and oftentimes was effective as a device in Greek drama, these days we’re less satisfied when something comes in completely out of the blue to conveniently tie up a seemingly unsolvable problem.
What does this have to do with anything that you might be working on? Because when it comes to persuading, your audience, your client, your customer does not like that god from the machine. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com, and this is Find the Red Thread.
The bad news, this desire, this urge to use a deus ex machina in your talk or message is really strong. And that’s because we want people to feel inspired and motivated and we know that that end of a talk is one of the most powerful ones. It’s when people are paying attention, it’s the last thing that they’ll hear, and so it makes sense that we want to reserve this big powerful idea right until the end. We want them to be surprised by it. We want this big “aha!”
Yeah, that’s the good urge, but the problem is it runs up against what’s actually good news for us, and that is that the audience wants to be engaged in your message too. And they want to be engaged all the way along. In fact, they want to do some of the work. They like to be amateur detectives. They like to guess where something is going, and they like to reach your conclusion pretty much just ahead of or at the same time you do.
So that means as you’re putting a message together, you need to make sure that you’ve given them enough information to support this big conclusion you’re coming to at the end. You can’t just, as Chekhov would say, fire a gun in the third act of a play that wasn’t clearly sitting on stage in the first. Because it just doesn’t make sense. And we all know that meaning, making sense of things, is that Trojan Horse of change. If something doesn’t make sense, it’s not going to work. And this is why structuring a message along the lines of the Red Thread can be super helpful because what it’s doing is allowing people to make those smaller movements towards coming to their version of your conclusion, their version of how to adapt your Change.
Now how do we deal with this then now? How do we resolve these two? How do you get your big dramatic finish and still engage people all the way along? Well we need to remember that humans aren’t just rational decision-makers, importantly, they’re rationalizing decision-makers. They’re going to love that big finish too, but they really want to be able to go back and see that you’ve made the case for it. So you’re already going to have made the case for it if you use the Red Thread, but the way you get that big finish is to think about how to frame all that information in a new way right at the end.
In other words, you can give them all clues, just like a great mystery writer would, but you don’t reveal what that all adds up to until the end. It’s very different than having a god drop in from the ceiling to suddenly tie it up. It’s instead making sense of the information that you’ve given them, and that’s what the Red Thread is all about.
So keep your great big finish, but make sure that you have built up the case for it throughout the rest of your message. If you want help finding your own Red Thread, check out RedThreadWeekend.com. That’s where I have information on upcoming Red Thread Weekend events. What are those? A day and a half where you and up to seven other people work both together and one-on-one with me to find and shape your Red Thread for a talk, a book, a message, even your life. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. Thanks so much for joining me.