The Energeia Gambit – 3 Secrets Houdini Knew Which Help You Grab, Hold and Funnel Attention

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It was the eighth wonder of the world.

The audience was covered in a dense fog of horror, anticipation and adrenaline. No one uttered a word. Men and women and children of all ages starred, their jaws hanging open in amazement. Each and every one of their eyes piercing through the shroud of darkness, entranced by the mysterious silver cylinder on stage and the strange, stout figure who had them enraptured.

300 litres of water. 5 of the most advanced padlocks. One set of police-regulation handcuffs.

“FAILURE”, the posters outside promised in firey red letters, “MEANS A DROWNING DEATH”. If you ever wanted a better example of a powerful visual description, that would be one.

Plunged deep into the freezing cold water, he had to struggle against the tightening grip of the steel handcuffs, slicing into the side of his wrists and cutting off circulation. Once he was past that, he had to remove each and every lock through a tiny hole at the top of the milk container, without being able to see, something even the best lock-breakers in the world would struggle to do. On top of all of this, he had to stay, submerged underwater, for the entire duration, held in the steel container that would barely fit a man half is size, let alone the stocky Hungarian who used it to make his name.

Fortunately, the cloth went up just at the right time, allowing for the real magic to happen.

It really was the eighth wonder of the world, he told himself. After 4 and a half minutes of holding his breath, breaking free from the handcuffs and finally managing to escape the container, he had managed to do the impossible. Soaking wet, heaving for breath and utterly exhausted from the mental and physical strain of escaping the milk container, Houdini blinked a few times to let the water clear from his eyes, and took a bow.

And the audience exploded into rapturous applause.

WHAT DID HOUDINI KNOW?

How did he do it? Well, giving it away completely would be going against the magician’s code, but I can tell you a few secrets that I’m sure he’d have been happy to share.

Houdini was a master showman, and he knew exactly how to grab, hold and funnel the audience’s attention just at the right time to make this trick, and himself, a legend. He knew that powerful imagery matched with vivid, descriptive words on his poster, would draw every crowd near and far. He knew that he had to make things matter, make things mysterious, and make them meaningful.

A couple of principles were at play in everything Houdini did to build his reputation, which you can make use of in your every-day life, and really use when it comes to grabbing, holding and funnelling attention:

1. MAKE IT MATTER – GRABBING

A typical task people start off with in any marketing, sales or advertising course is tuning into the radio station; WIIFM? What’s In It For Me?

Now, whilst I think it’s important that we take the benefits of something into account, I think it leads down a rather dreary and well-trodden path. How many times have you been told about the figures and the facts of a product, and you just haven’t cared about it? Answering What’s In It For Me only goes so far, and tends to only look at the logical, rational side of human behaviour.

“Oh, it makes customer retention more efficient. Great.” Or “Yes, it means I can increase my savings AER by 0.025%. Wonderful.” Or “Hmmm, it does give me lifetime access to XYZ services. Neat.”

What does any of this actually mean though?

What we should be asking is “Why Should I Care?” Sure, it’s maybe not as catchy and doesn’t lead to the metaphor of tuning in (when was the last time you turned a physical dial on a radio, rather than rely on DAB?) but it has a hell of a lot more impact on how you grab attention and brings you a lot closer to using Enargeia. Why Should I Care means that you’re going right to the heart of a customer, not just focusing on how they think, but focusing on how they feel.

Apple makes people care about their brand, because people want to feel as if they’re fashionable, innovative and fresh, even though their products are technically equal or inferior to their competition.

Nike makes people care about their brand because they want to feel as if they’re go-getters, athletes and heroes, even if that all that little tick does is double the price tag.

When someone cares for something, regardless of the cost or effort it will take to engage with it, how much more likely do you think they’ll invest their time, energy and money in to it? These are the prime benefits of making people care about what you do, and you do that by making what you do matter.

WHAT HOUDINI KNEW

Houdini knew that people would care about whether he’d live or die. What monster wouldn’t care? But it’s the same as any good story. We care about something because it matters to us. It makes us feel something. Life and death matter to us. Social status matters to us. Freedom, security, politics, religion, all of these matter to us.

You go to watch Spider-Man Homecoming because you care whether or not Spidey will make it out alive and learn with great power, comes great responsibility.

You read about Taylor Swift and Katy Perry’s on-going rivalry because you hate one and worship the other, and ultimately you want one to come out on top. Or maybe you hate both of them and just like the thrill of reading two stars falling apart in a ball of flames. But you still care.

Using visually powerful descriptions, also known as the Enargeia Gambit, makes people feel something. And our feelings matter to us, perhaps more than most things.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The easiest way to figure out why other people should care about what you have to say is to figure out why you care. Find that feeling that makes you interested in your message and build it from there. Think about these questions:

  • What was it about the problem you’re trying to solve that drew you into it in the first place?
  • Why do you care about the people being affected by it?
  • What differences can you make to the situation?
  • Why do you care about the dangers it poses to society?
  • What makes you so invested in it that you’re spending chunks of your life dedicated to changing it?

Chances are, if you hit upon something that gets you really riled up, other people will be able to see it too. And chances are, they’ll care.

2. MAKE IT MYSTERIOUS – HOLDING

Mystery is a strange beast. I often think about it like a high-wire balancing act.

Too much emphasis on the side that asks all the questions and you’ll fall off into a pit of existential doubt, confusion and the need for perpetual cliff hangers that can only ever build up to something that disappoints.

Too much emphasis on the other side, where there’s no mystery at all, and you’ll end up bored, unchallenged and full of clichéd, relentlessly predictable plotlines and paint-by-numbers story telling.

The truth is, the brain craves a certain amount of mystery. It’s what makes things interesting. If you were in a relationship where you could predict your partners every move, every sentence, every shift in their mood, everything they would complain about, everything they’d order from the same restaurant, you’d be driven mad.

So why should your work, your presentations or your personal life be like that? Why should you be in the same, comfortable, oil-slick lane that you’ve always been in? The obvious answer is, you shouldn’t be!

WHAT DID HOUDINI KNOW?

Houdini knew that his milk can escape desperately needed some mysterious element to it. The cloth curtain he had his assistants raise served the purpose of asking more questions than it answered. Importantly, though, it didn’t fully explain how he accomplished his miracle. He could have just as easily shown the audience what he was doing behind the curtain, and it would have been as equally impressive, but he didn’t.

Why? Well… That’s just part of the mystery. And part of how you hold someone’s attention.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

I said in this week’s edition that “Success for us happens when you have the courage to be yourself and put your courageous ideas into action. Bringing ideas to life and grabbing attention, by their very nature, are courageous ideas that take the heart of an explorer, the mind of a champion and the core of a warrior. It might be scary, but I believe your message and your inner story deserves to be heard.”

It takes courage to leave your audience asking questions, but that’s what you have to be willing to do. Those questions mean that they’ll be thinking about you and your message long after you’ve left. It means they’ll be looking at your business card, trying to figure out the clue you left on it. It means they’ll have something to tell their friends about, or a reason to share our promotional video, or a reason to call you up or make an introduction the next time they think of someone in your field of expertise.

I really do believe that you have an amazing story to tell that the world deserves to hear, and adding mystery to that process is a wonderful way of starting to fulfil your potential. This is a huge, huge part of our Psychological Artistry Live! Day, and I’d love to see you there, beginning to learn just what to do and how to do it.

You can see more information about that here: mindsways.com/psychological-artistry.html

3. MAKE IT MEANINGFUL – FUNNELLING

Imagine I perform two tricks for you. Which one do you think has the chance for greater vivid descriptions, which one would make you pay more attention, and for longer, and which one would you be likely to tell your friends and family afterwards?

Trick Number 1: You pick a card out a deck. I tell you that it’s the nine of spades. I take a quick bow and the trick is over.

Or,

Trick Number 2: I tell you that “Ever since I was very young, I’ve had a crippling fear of the dark. The way I dealt with it, and still do every so often, is to try and listen to my parent’s downstairs and guess what they’re up to. Over time, I became quite good at it. I figured out which TV programmes they were watching, when they stopped to read a book, when they’d help themselves to a cheeky alcoholic drink after the kids went to bed.

“As I grew older, strange things started to happen. Not only could I tell which book they were reading, I could tell which chapter they were on and every so often, which page they stopped at. I could tell when they were watching the news, but I could also tell what colour the newsreader’s clothes were. I even got good at guessing which cards were going to come up in Play Your Cards Right!

“So, we’re going to try and recreate that here. I’m going to put this blindfold on, to simulate being in the dark, and you’re going to pick a card from this deck. I think, yes, it’s coming to me now, I think it’s a red card. And, it’s quite a high card, but not the highest. I think it’s a spade as well, and it’s definitely higher than a 5. Yes, I think it’s the seven. The seven of hearts?”

I hope you’ll agree with me that Trick Number 2 would be far more interesting and entertaining to watch. Not only does it lead to me revealing the card a bit slower, ramping up the tension of whether I get it right or not, but it builds on the first and second step of our 3 Secrets; make it matter and make it mysterious, and finally, make it meaningful.

Throw in some acting, a couple of jokes, and hopefully you’ll be on my side. The meaning and mystery in the first trick is almost entirely absent. It’s a get in, get it done, get out again kind of an approach. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who performs a magic trick like that.

How many presentations have you seen that echoes this sort of mentality? More than you’d like to count, I would imagine.

The mystery in the second trick, however, is in-built from the ground up. I’m giving you just enough information to start having you asking questions in your head, such as “How did the strange things start to happen? Why did it happen to him? Could I do the same if I tried? What else could he pick up on?”

By creating the gaps in my script where information is missing, I’m starting to shift the way you’re thinking. By using vivid descriptions, such as “cheeky alcoholic drink” and “crippling fear”, I begin to pull in your attention and build a visual world.

By giving my actions meaning, I’m starting to funnel your attention. You’re no longer focusing on the cards, you’re focusing on my blindfold. You’re no longer thinking if the cards are in a specific order, which they might be, but you’re thinking about how it feels to be picking up on the colour whilst I can’t see anything.

By telling you that I was afraid of the dark and still am, and then going on to place myself in the dark, I’m throwing some emotional chips in to this metaphorical poker game. What makes the second trick even more powerful is that I’m facing one of my fears right in front of you. I’m making you care about me, care about how I’m feeling at the time, adding to the mystery of the trick and tapping into something we all remember: being afraid of the dark.

You have a vested interest in me at this point, because you know more about me and my past. You want to see me succeed, because who wants to see someone succumb to their fears? You want to know if this is real, because somewhere, deep down inside, you want to be able to do it too.

By this point, hopefully you can see the power that a vivid description can have when you combine it with Attention Advantage principles. This is just the sort of stuff we give you as part of our Psychological Artistry Live! Day. You can see more information about that here: www.mindsways.com/psychological-artistry.html

WHAT HOUDINI KNEW

Houdini knew that when he was on stage, he wasn’t just an ordinary person any more. He was a miracle performer, yes, but he was also a Hungarian Jewish immigrant. He was a symbol for the great wave of people who had landed on the American shoreline with nothing but the clothes on their back and the American dream in their minds. He was the living, breathing embodiment of the little man overcoming obstacles in his way.

He showed us that no locks could keep him restrained, that no jail cell could keep him bound, that no pressure from a repressive system of judgements and limitations could limit the powers of the Powerful, the Amazing, the Greatest Magician Alive, Harry Houdini.

What he did wasn’t just magic, it was the epitome of hope for the swathes of newcomers to a strange new world. The way he performed, the scripts he used, the vivid language on the posters that you’d see for weeks before he came to town, all of them came to be an Enargeia in and of themselves for the optimism, the courage and the blinding faith of his generation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The fact that now, nearly 100 years after he died, you still know the name Harry Houdini, says a lot about the impact he had on the world. He inspired an age of magicians through his performances, what he stood for and through his courageous stunts. He knew a lot, and we should be able to make use of some of his wisdom.

So, what can you do to live up to his name and make something meaningful? Well, if you’ve got this far, you should know that the first two steps are vital to this process. Think about why people should care, then add something mysterious to keep their attention fixed on you. For the third step, think about what you actually want to say. What’s the point you want to make?

Is it:

  • Something about the state of well-being in today’s world?
  • Something about the nature of human life?
  • Something that will uplift the person watching?
  • Something that will make the person watching stop and think?
  • Something that will lead to courageous action?
  • Something that will leave them entranced by an idea?
  • Something that absolutely needs to be said, right now, by no one else but you?

Your meaning could be any, all, or none of these things. This is just a set of prompts to get you thinking about it.

If you want to have a talk about any of this, I’d love to hear from you either on our Facebook pageTwitter or LinkedIn. If you want some direct coaching on any of these topics, I suggest going to our pricing page (www.mindsways.com/pricing) and seeing if a one-to-one would be suitable! Or if you want to get a good foundational experience in our training, I’d absolutely recommend joining us on our next Psychological Artistry Live! Day. Please go to www.mindsways.com/pa/ for more about this! Psychological Artistry Live! Day.

Thanks in advance,

ALEX

07970 480 615

P.S. “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner

I’m a creative thinker, designer and web developer, experienced magician and actor, writer and stage director who uses elements from Psychological Artistry (a blend of psychology, behavioural insights and mentalism) to tell effective, engaging and empowering stories. I believe that storytelling is key to developing a better and more successful business community and society. My aims are to instil a feeling of wonder, awe, authenticity, autonomy and hope in the business owners I work with and their clients.

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