When I used to teach filmmaking (summer school) to bright young students who wanted nothing more than to be the next Spielberg/Scorsese/Cameron – mainly because they’d never heard of Lean/Kubrik/Kurosawa – I was invariably asked, “What is the most important thing to remember when making a movie…the one thing that will separate you from all the other struggling artists vying for the public’s attention?”
My answer was always that same: “That which you seek can be found in the last scene of High Fidelity.”
In case you don’t know, High Fidelity is a film released in 2000, starring John Cusack and a female lead named Iben Hjejle – whom I’ve never seen in another film (although she is a lovely actress and I hear she’s quite popular in Norway). The premise of said film is…
Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a self-confessed music geek with a poor understanding of women. After getting dumped by his current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) he decides to look up some of his old partners in an attempt to figure out where he keeps going wrong in his relationships.
Now, to be fair, this storyline has nothing to do with the answer to my student’s question. To gain this enlightenment, you must venture to see the last five minutes of the movie. This is where Barry (Jack Black) is asked by Rob’s girlfriend to play with his band at a record premiere party.
Rob freaks out because Barry has significant self-control and anti-social issues he’s working through – and Rob is very concerned that Barry and his band (Sonic Death Monkey aka Kathleen Turner Overdrive) will ruin the event. So the night of the party, Rob (very reluctantly and expecting the worst) introduces Barry and asks everyone not to leave. And that’s where the magic happens.
You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1V_-iZYIofU
That’s because Barry has taken the time to know, understand and respect his audience (which in this case is a room full of corporate lawyers). As he takes the stage he announces that, for tonight only, his band will be known as Barry Jive and the Uptown Five. And then, without any hesitation, launches into a soulful, fun, engaging and surprisingly talented version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” And as Rob watches Barry belt out this song, on his face you can see him slowly come to understand the power of the ultimate lesson I share with my students, which is as follows:
You’ve grabbed the microphone – you’d better have something to say.
Too many people seem to think that just the act of ‘getting up there’ and sharing your opinion, or data, or story will make people want to listen. (This is why so many karaoke bars still exist). But when it comes to successful communication nothing could be further from the truth. Today, there is so much competition for people’s time – and some many venues through which this competition is delivered – that any poorly developed, hastily packaged, awkwardly delivered message is quickly lost in the “clutter” of digital media and doomed to failure. You want people to sit up and listen to you? Have something interesting/relatable/relevant to say!
Take the time to know (and respect) your audience.
And speaking of relevance – there is a common tendency, when developing and delivering digital media to any target audience, to assume that “what I say is important” and people will automatically understand how important when they hear my message. This seems to be especially true of people who have lots of data and research to back up their message. Is this the basis for successful communication? Again – not so much. Most digital audiences have become much too savvy to spend their time being talked at instead of talked to. Showing both respect to your audience, and sharing your message in a way that shows you understand who they are and what they feel, are keys to any successful communication effort. Remember, you’re playing in their sandbox. It helps to know in advance if they have a cat.
Engage them on an emotional level.
Remember the famous scene from Braveheart – where Mel Gibson rode a white Charger up and down in front of his men telling them how important the battle they were about to fight is to their families and future? Now, imagine him trying to do the same thing – trying to get his men worked into frenzy – but this time using an infographic instead of a sword. It’s important to remember that, at their core, people are simple creatures. If you can engage their emotions – primarily through ideas, narratives and stories – you can then bring them to a place where they will be immersed in what you have to say. People want to be engaged – you just have to give them a reason. Just like Barry Jive and the Uptown Five.
I’m proud that these are the same precepts we always embrace when developing digital content for our clients. We understand the power of story; the impact of data translation; and the purpose of motivation. At Banyan, we believe that “creating change for good” means we have a responsibility to engage, educate, and communicate with our audiences, so we will ultimately be successful in helping our clients achieve their communication goals and hopefully enhance people’s lives. And just like Barry Jive, we’re always ready to grab the microphone and get people moving to our beat.
Now – who’s up for karaoke?