Getting the Word Out, Hollywood Style

For nearly one hundred years, the Hollywood-based entertainment industry has been perfecting methods of getting and sustaining the attention and focus of the global audience. There are principles for communicating effectively that go back to the ancient Greeks, and they can be gleaned from Hollywood's experience. Sadly, many people of religious faith tend to dismiss entertainment as frivolous or exploitive. This is muddled thinking. "Entertainment" simply refers to the effort to satisfy and engage human nature by appealing to the emotions. We have entertained whenever we have made people feel. Once we have them feeling, we can move them toward caring and thinking.

It is a mistake to not take into consideration the entertainment value of every message that we create. We who are creating political or spiritual messages should ask ourselves some of the questions that Hollywood asks, like these:

  1. Why will the audience care about this?
  2. How will we engage the audience's attention with this piece?
  3. What is the core, defining theme of this piece?
  4. What should our tone be in this message?
  5. How do we want the audience to feel at the end of this piece?

Take some cues from the industry that knows how to communicate strategically.

The "Big Idea" of Entertainment/Messaging

There is a fail-proof ancient Greek formula for getting and holding an audience's attention. Every communication should have what Aristotle called: Logos, pathos, and ethos. That is, there needs to be something for the mind, something for the emotions, and finally, something for the imagination.

Something for the mind—half of holding people's attention is in feeding their instinctive desire to know. Every message needs to teach something that the audience can take away and integrate into their framework and conversations. A message is meant to be carried on the winds. Hence, the speaker needs to be focused on helping the hearers become teachers. Give them examples, power ideals, and metaphors to share.

Something for the heart/emotions—Aristotle says that every effective drama either leads the audience to weep or to feel fear of evil. A message needs to be clear in its emotional tone—either sadness, or wonder, or fear or joy or terror. Then, the emotion can be heightened until the audience responds physically—with tears, or frowns or goose bumps or laughter. The audience that is feeling these things will be attentive and fully engaged.

Something for the imagination—A good message ends by causing a beginning in the hearer. A good message is a launch in the hearer. The speaker does their work and then sends the hearer off to do theirs—to brood over the full implications of the message, to apply it to their own world, to begin to foment a plan as a response.

Production value matters. That is to say, things like working microphones, a well-lit and attractive set, good hair and make-up, costuming—these all matter. Attention must be given to these so that they complement the message as opposed to distracting from it.

Rehearse. No matter how well a speaker or writer knows a topic, every message opportunity should be thoroughly strategized, structured, and rehearsed so that it looks effortless. This is a service to the audience, but also will allow the same basic message to be reframed according to the needs and situation of the hearers.

There is a definite hierarchy of elements in any piece of entertainment. Aristotle lists the hierarchy of a good drama as: Plot first, then characters, then theme, then dialogue, then music, and lastly, spectacle. When applying this to messaging, we can say that the story is the main thing. What is the story that this message needs to tell? What is my beginning, middle, and end? Then, immediately move to characters—who will be affected by this? How? Then, give attention to theme—what is the overall ideological principle underlying this communication? Then, give attention to specific wording. Then, ask yourself, what is the icing on the cake of this message? What is the entertainment value for the hearers?

The Two Key Rules of Hollywood/Messaging

The two biggest rules of Hollywood meetings, and also movies:

Don't bore me.
Don't waste my time.

It is possible to construct the foundation of a whole communication strategy from these two rules.

Don't bore me.You bore me when you tell me something that is irrelevant to me.Early on, every speech or communication needs to answer the question that is in the hearer's mind, namely, "Why do I care about this?" This is called setting the stakes. And the higher the stakes are, the more emotion you can expect to engender in the hearer. A message needs to connect with the hearer's fears or concerns.

4/4/2011 4:00:00 AM
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