The Key to a Great Mystery Story
Have you ever watched a detective movie and felt like you were just about to put it together right when the detective solves it? How do we get our audience to have that feeling when they’re listening to our message? The thing to realize is that, just like a great detective novel, there are several roles we can play in delivering a message.
We often think that we need to be the Sherlock Holmes to the audience’s Watson, that we show the audience the way things should be. However, if we do that we lose an opportunity to the engage the audience. The reason Watson is in all of those stories is to stand in for the reader, he lets us see the difference between how we were thinking and how we could be thinking (a problem of perspective). But what if we take that role, and let the audience be Sherlock and put everything together?
There’s a third role, however, that’s even more powerful: the author. Even though the stories were written from Watson’s point of view, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was really the one who decided when we were given certain pieces of information. He allowed us to think we were Watson when we were actually given a much broader perspective. By making your audience the hero, the Sherlock, while you play the role of Watson, asking the questions the audience wants to ask, you’re actually playing the role of the author. That way, you’re constructing your message like every great mystery story— where just as the reader, the audience, is putting it all together, the hero puts it together, too.
Have you ever read a mystery novel where right at the moment where, let’s say Sherlock Holmes reveals the answer to who committed the murder, you’re just about to figure out the answer in that moment? It’s amazing, right? It’s an amazing feeling as a reader. And if you’re watching, as a viewer. How can we make sure we recreate that same kind of experience for our readers and our audiences? Well, that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread, and I’m your host, Tamsen Webster.
No matter where the charge to deliver a message comes from, either internally or externally, from a boss or a colleague, most of us feel this need to fulfill that responsibility, to make sure we’re delivering on that message as best as we can. And that desire to do that, a very positive intention, can sometimes blind us to the best role that we can play in regards to making sure the audience understands and is really engaged with that message. And this is where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson come in and as we’ll see, so does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of all those mysteries.
See, in a rather obsessive moment, I decided to read all of the Sherlock Holmes and Watson mysteries (and I’m currently making my way through Agatha Christie). And in the midst of reading all these mysteries, I had this realization that there’s a number of roles in play and these roles teach us a lot about how best to serve those audiences that watch us, read us, and listen to us. Here’s what I mean. There’s different roles that we can play in that delivery of the message. And I’m going to embody them by the roles that are familiar to us with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Now the star of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries of course, is Sherlock Holmes himself. He’s the master consulting detective. He’s the one that figures it out, he’s the one that has these powers of deduction that are superior to none. He can take data and make magic from it. Now this is often times the role that we think we as communicators fall into. That we are the Sherlock Holmes to the rest of the world, to our audience’s Dr. Watson. That we’re showing the audience the way things should be. But when we do that, if we do that, then we lose an opportunity to make the audience really engage in the way they can. I mean it’s a reason, for instance, why Watson was present in so much of so many, excuse me, of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
You see, Watson served as an internal representation of the reader. The reader recognizes themselves in Watson, Watson would make the same kind of concluding mistakes that the reader would make. And because we were in all of Sherlock Holmes like Watson was, Watson was very comfortable to us. He also allowed us to see the difference between how we were thinking and how we could be thinking.
Now, if you’re a follower of the Red Thread method, you should know that that’s a good hint. That that’s helping us see the problems of perspective that often get in the way of seeing the way and the path to our Goal. But here’s why that’s so important: because when it comes to making ideas and messages irresistible, that’s an internal process. We have to come to those discoveries ourselves.
And that’s why the role of Watson is so important, and why, as speakers, communicators and message makers, we need to make sure that we don’t make ourselves Sherlock Holmes. That the next best option is to make ourselves Watson. That we are looking and presenting the information in such a way that we allow the audience to be the smart ones. We allow them to be the heroes of the message that we’re talking about.
But because that idea of irresistibility is so internal, I think there’s a third role that’s an even better one for we as message makers to take. And that is the author, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Remember, behind Sherlock Holmes and Watson, even though the stories were written from Watson’s point of view, the real author behind them was Conan Doyle. He was the one that decided when were we given certain pieces of information, and he was the one that allowed us to think that we were Watson. When all the time, we were actually given a much broader perspective.
Now, I’ll admit that this is kind of presenting and communicating and message-making 501— this is post-gradual level stuff. But if you’re interested in taking your messages to the next level, I’d suggest that you take a cue from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Think about how you can put your messages, your presentations, your white papers together in such a way where there is both the hero of the story (and that would the audience, by the way), the “Sherlock Holmes,” and the casual, interested, identifiable observer, the “Watson,” if you will. You get to play that role.
But because you’re putting out all that information, you really, ultimately down deep play the role of the author of this amazing mystery. And when we’ve constructed that mystery in just the right way, then the audience has that same moment that we do when we’re reading mystery novels or seeing one on screen where just as Sherlock Holmes is figuring out, we’re starting to figure it out too. And your audience wants and needs that to find your idea irresistible.
If you need help figuring out how to do that, then that’s a process I would help walk my clients through. I use something called a Talk Block Outline and what we’re doing is figuring out all those concepts, all those clues that need to be in place in order to make the mystery of your message come alive. If you’re interested in that, come talk to me at tamsenwebster.com/contact or watch some of the past videos and read up on my blog. Thanks so much for watching and listening. I’ll see you next time.