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Saturday, March 17, 2018
Article written by Vincent Harris

The Magical State of Captivation

The smartest man I ever met was also the most boring. When I was in the Navy, I took a statistics class through Southern Illinois University while I was stationed in San Diego, California. This guy had worked for NASA, and could work through complex computations with blinding speed. I do good just to balance my check book, but this guy worked out problems in his head faster than the students could with scientific calculators. On top of that, he also knew a lot about everything; it didn’t seem to matter what the topic of discussion happened to be, he knew something about it.

With all of this knowledge, there was one thing that prevented him from being perceived as interesting by the majority of students; all he knew how to do conversationally was convey the facts…and facts alone are boring as hell. Day after day, I watched those around me, racing each other into trance as he droned on and on. I eventually came to the conclusion that statistics was just one of those subjects that couldn’t be fun or entertaining, and as a result, I was really struggling to grasp statistics in a useful manner.

Years later I would meet a woman that shattered the myth that statistics can’t be fun; Melody Shipley told stories, and these stories had embedded within them, the principles a successful statistics student would need. After 4 weeks with Melody, I had learned more than I had in the 14 weeks I had wrestled through with the NASA whiz bang. He told us what he knew, she told stories. He bored us to tears, and she magically captivated us all.

Captivation is the key; by capturing the attention of your audience, you can take them on a journey, traveling with them through the various feelings and emotions that support the outcome you had already decided you had for them. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Most people tell a story with no outcome whatsoever; I used to be the epitome of telling irrelevant stories that left friends and family wondering “ I wonder what the point of that story was?” or worse yet, asking me that question. Several years ago, I heard Kevin Hogan say, “What do you want the other person to think or feel after you tell this story?” I was embarrassed to think about how many times I had opened my trap without having any idea what the answer to that question was.

Once I learned to ask that question, it was like someone had finally greased my wheels. No longer did I feel the resistance of others in the audience, but instead watched as people followed me from one mood shift to the next, almost begging to be taken on the next ride through an intriguing tale. But it all started with getting their attention.

How do you do that consistently? There is one thing I have discovered that will effortlessly get people by the shirt collar, and have them glad that you did; talk about something controversial without taking a side. For example: “ Has anyone noticed how there seems to be some conflict about why our weather is changing so quickly, and whether or not this has anything to do with global warming.”

Know that your audience members will have feelings associated to this, and will therefore be generous with their attention. Now, all you have to do is keep it. How? You ask, “Now, what on earth could this debate have to do with why I’m here today?” You then tell them, “As I talk to you today, you’ll become aware of the correlations between X and the global warming debate. What is the connection? That’s up to you to create, and it’s a rather simple task, one that I’ll be covering in a future article. The point is, they’ll be curious as the dickens about how the two are connected, and will be listening attentively as they try to connect the dots. As long as you provide them with something that comes close to a connection between the two, relevant or not, they’ll feel the closure they need, and more importantly, what you talked about will still be in their mind tomorrow.
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