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Why your audience doesn’t hear what you think you have said! 

What can an illusionist teach a business leader about making a message land? We have had the great pleasure recently of working with Threshold associate, and world-class illusionist, Peter Wardell. Peter’s insights really bring to life the points we make on Communicating With Impact. Our minds respond to novelty, but in order to do so they simply fade out huge amounts of input. These phenomena contain vital lessons for business leaders who need a message to land with their people.

And of course, while the illusionist relies on these phenomena to catch us unawares, they are also drawing our attention to what they want us to notice. This is the art of sign-posting or leaving the ‘open-loop of curiosity.’ For example, observe a typical street performer, they will draw your attention at the start to that outlandish unicycle that forms part of the finale. You know something will be done with it, but you don’t know what. You are now looking out for it.

Watching Peter reminded me of a study into ‘Change Deafness’ by Professor Kimberly Fenn of the University of Chicago. Across five studies, participants were interviewed by telephone in what they believed to be a study into the nature of smells. But here’s the rub, during the conversation the interviewer changed. Frequently, this meant a significant change in the resonance of the voice of the interviewer. The percentage of participants who noticed that the voice on the end of the phone had changed, varied from small (16%) to miniscule (4%.) However, where participants were told in advance that the voice might change, 74% noticed the change. But here’s the most interesting part, 66% of respondents could pinpoint exactly the point at which the change took place. In other words, signposting in advance that something of interest may be about to happen means that people are significantly more receptive to that stimulus, at the point at which it occurs.

And so the message to business leaders… if you talk in the usual business clichés, you induce ‘change deafness’ in your audience. Keep your language new and fresh. Signpost that the big message may be coming down the line. Show them a glimpse of your giant unicycle.