I want to raise some questions about engagement. So often I see it being represented as a really complex thing: “Oh you must have flashy Powerpoint presentations, always keep the audience on their toes!”
I find this difficult at times. Why must we always go for things that are flashy? Can engagement use simplicity?
Let me cite two examples.
I can recall a performance that I did with a theatre company which was the most engaging performance that I was ever involved in. The audience were in hysterics. Did we have a set? No. Props? No. All we had was a group of characters that we created – set in the 1950s- who were going on a car trip in the Humber Supersnipe.
The car was imagined and the only props that we had were chairs from the venue.
Why did it work?
Simply, I think, because we improvised and were on a similar level to the audience – not really knowing what was going to happen next. And the fact that we allowed the road trip to take place in the imagination of the audience. Sure we had characterisation, sight gags, and funny interactions to draw up, yet ultimately we drew upon the experience of the audience to engage with what we were doing: a knowledge of the 1950s, family dynamics, and car journeys. A good lesson for me – you don’t always need elaborate props.
The second example concerns a recent Arts Festival in Melbourne. I went to a number of events. One was a very elaborate modern opera with a specialised soundtrack (complex computerisation driving the show). Another was a performance, by a group of twenty something young Japanese performers- subtitles projected behind – and a white set (no props) simply recounting stories of a particular weekend.
And what was the most rewarding performance? No prizes here – that of the Japanese performers.
At the end of the day- when all the bells and whistles are taken into account – a simple spoken story (narrated) and built into the mind of each audience member, can be the essence of great engagement. The simple , the traditional- basic story telling.
So, if ever you get told that bells and whistles are the basis of good engagement in training- think twice.
Think of what the audience brings to training – and reflect on this famous quote by Hitchcock: “Transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience.”
Think of what can be created in the mind of each training participant. It is much greater than we can ever achieve by lightshow or flashy presentation- “menace” not intended.