Why are some books, videos and audio so much “better” than others? Or rather, why do we consider so many to be dry and boring?
The style of delivery matters, of course. A well spoken audio, a well crafted book is always going to stand out. Yet, all information can do with the cherry on top—namely, entertainment.
We're going to explore why entertainment is so crucial and how much is too much.
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When you hear the term, “Don't Mess with Texas”, surely littering doesn't come to mind.
In the late 80's Texas had a $20 million trash problem. The highways were being littered with junk. “Bubbas in pickup trucks” were tossing stuff out of the window as they drove by, and the cost of cleaning up the litter was going up by 17% per year.
It's not like Texas Department of Transportation didn't try to stem the litter problem.
The highways were filled with signs like “Keep Texas Beautiful”, but that plea fell on deaf ears. Tim McLure, whose advertising agency was in charge of creating change, felt they were stuck. “We thought the way to get it into the public’s consciousness quickest was to let Texans own it,” says McClure. “I don’t think they would have put something that said ‘Don’t Litter Texas.’
One day, in a moment of inspiration, he came up with the phrase “Don't Mess with Texas”.
In 1985, the ad campaign got off the ground with “Don’t Mess With Texas” bumper stickers and an advertisement during the Cotton Bowl. In the ad guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan played “The Eyes of Texas” in front of a giant Lone Star flag.
A narrator read: “Each year, we spend over $20 million picking up trash along our Texas highways.Messing with Texas isn’t just an insult to the Lone Star state, it’s a crime.”
And Stevie Ray Vaughan ended the ad with the line: Don't mess with Texas.
The ad was instantly a hit, so much so that the Department of Transportation were able to get tons of celebrities to sign up—all as volunteers for future ads. Many musician also called the agency asking to appear in the ad as well.
Suddenly a message that seemed to be very instructional, almost boring, became extremely interesting. Music, celebrity, fun—that's what created the change. When we write a book, create a workshop or even do a zoom call, we're not looking to simply give more information.
What we are seeking to create is a factor of lasting change. Yet, we go about it in the most boring manner. We know that we're in dire need of creating a factor of entertainment, but aren't sure where to start.
A few questions questions pop up almost immediately.
1) When do you add entertainment to your messaging?
2) How much is too much?
3) Why does the factor of entertainment become crucial in creating change?
1) When do you put the cherry on top of the cake?
If you answered, “right at the beginning”, then you'd be considered strange. The cake doesn't exist. How can you put the cherry on top? Yet, that's the method that many of us tend to use when creating some level of entertainment in our books, webinars and courses. We expect that the entertainment factor will somehow pop up during the process of “making the cake”.
Instead, the entertainment factor is almost always later—almost once you're done.
The process of creating any information is almost always tiring. You've spent a lot of time trying to get your thoughts together and then it's time to put those ideas in some sort of structure. Like how it feels for me, as a writer, at this very moment.
As I'm writing these words, I'm going back and forth in my brain (and sometimes on the keyboard). It's like I'm inching forward bit by bit, and to try and slip in entertainment at this stage, overburdens me, and slows me down even further.
However, once I've finished the very first draft, the ideas are on “paper”.
It's at this point that a writer can add bits of entertainment to their work. Entertainment could be the very same ideas as sketches, illustrations or cartoons. They could be stories or case studies that relate to the topic being explained.
However, if the medium involves audio or video, entertainment could be the music, sound effects or something that lets the viewer or listener stop, and just relax a bit.
Let's take an example of how I go about creating a presentation for a workshop.
At first, I'll outline what three points I want to cover. I'll go to the cafe, and scribble on a piece of paper. I'll make a ton of boxes. put rough ideas in those boxes and that's how the first stage of ideation begins. It's not usual to strike gold in that first sweep.
I may go back over the same set of boxes and add or subtract ideas. For the information products course, I went through about sixteen drafts before I could get. my head around to figuring out the way I wanted to present the information.
It's usually a slow, head-banging process as I work through what I think needs to be done. I may get an idea or two of how to make things more lively and I will put it down.
However, the bulk of the cherry placing needs to come once I'm more sure of where I'm going.
With an article, a single draft may be enough to be sure of the direction. With a presentation, sixteen drafts might be the “first draft”. However, once you've got that flow, the brain is relaxed. You've got a lot of the hard work out of the way.
It's free to add bits and pieces that make the work more entertaining. Which is usually when I'll add the cartoons, or some video, or animation (for a slide deck). When I sat down to write The Brain Audit, I thought of adding a recipe and sometimes a whole page of cartoons. Plus, when you go to the end of the book, there are even more cartoons past the last page.
However, even the stories and case studies are all a form of entertainment. I find it's easier to create the draft and then find and add stories later.
In short, the cherry goes on top—after everything is done.
Even so, there's always the fear that you may not have enough entertainment—or too much. How much is too much? How much is enough?
2) How much is enough? How much is too much?
When we say refer to the English alphabet, we use the term, “as easy as ABC”. Yet, if you were to watch a child learning the first few letters, there's nothing easy about it. There's laboured progress as the child heads from A to B, then stays inordinately long at the second letter, before finally going to C. In between the bouts of learning, the child often naps or plays.
When slightly overwhelmed, the brain will want to slip into play mode
It seeks some sort of break, some sort of escape from the new concepts being introduced. Which is where entertainment comes right in. If you're writing a book or booklet, there's no reason why you can't have a few illustrations that break up the text.
The illustrations provide a visual aspect of the very same matter, but allows the tired mind to linger a bit, and just do nothing for a while. A story or case study is also a form of relaxation for the mind, as is a side bar of information that's not quite so serious.
However, how much of this entertainment is too much?
Usually it's best to follow a simple formula:
- And then have an example, possibly two examples.
Which means that if you have a concept like “why the problem is more important than the solution” then you've have the following:
- What is the problem? What is the solution?
- Why is the problem more important than the solution?
- How do we know for sure that the brain is more attracted to the solution?
- Isn't it kind of negative to bring up the problem all the time?
It's at this point that the reader is looking for some relief.
They've just been introduced to a new concept and need a bit of a break. One or two examples are more than enough. The same goes for illustrations or any kind of entertainment you're about to slip in.
There's no precise ratio, but it would be safe to say that once you've pushed a fair bit of information through, having a bit of entertainment is the only sensible way forward. It's fair to say that it also helps the learning process much better than an endless amount of information.
Finally, why is entertainment so very important?
3) Why does the factor of entertainment become crucial in creating change?
When you read, or listen to the news today, most of it is likely to be useless to you. You are just curious to know what's happening in the world around you. When you watch a movie, you seek to be entertained. However, when you get on a zoom call, are in a presentation or reading a business book, you're likely to do so because you want to create some change.
A reader wants to change the way he or she does things.
Hence, the goal of the writer is—or should be—to treat change as the primary goal. If the information being provided is unrelenting, the reader gets tired. The abandonment rate increases sharply, which is the opposite of your goal as the writer.
If the client won't read your book, or nods off in your presentation, you're not getting across. If you're not getting across, you're making little or no change.
It's one thing to think of information as important
It's quite another to intersperse information with entertainment, so that the reader keeps going. Will it guarantee change? There's no guarantee that the client will make changes if they get to the end of your book, but it sure ramps up the likelihood, if they are interested.
Even entertainers know this to be true
I was once at a concert by Sting. The content—if you want to call it that—wasn't difficult. Everyone in the audience is usually there because they know and like Sting's music. Plus, since musicians tend to play a lot of their hits, the audience knows most of the lyrics.
Do you detect any difficulty in this kind of scenario? Even so, musicians will take the time to add entertainment. Some will put on a full on dance routine, even though it's purely incidental to their music. A rather toned down performer like Sting, will tell stories in between the songs.
These stories might be about the song itself, or some other interesting stories. The audience isn't there to listen to the stories, but they appreciate the break.
A similar sort of phenomenon shows up with documentaries by David Attenborough
Even though the documentaries are quite easy to watch, the parts that people seem to love the most are “the making of the movie”. They want to see how things were done in the background. What troubles did the film crew run into? How did they shoot that particular scene? What technology is being used to shoot the cheetah in such detail?
These may not seem to fall in the entertainment category at first, but entertainment are the little bits that people look forward to. When things get rough or boring, or just a bit long, you need to let people have a “baby nap” or just play a bit.
That keeps them engaged longer, and brings them back to learn a bit more. In effect, you're an agent of change instead of just dumping even more information on your clients.
And here's a poem:
Entertainment is a powerful tool,
A way to reach the masses and rule,
With laughter, song, and stories grand,
It takes us to another land.
It has the power to make us smile,
And forget our troubles for a while,
It can bring us joy, hope and peace,
And make the world a better place.
So let us use entertainment's might,
To spread love, kindness and unite,
To make a change, a better way,
And brighten up the world each day.