It's true – our brains get all lit up and engaged when there is a mystery to solve (source here).
Do you watch the tv show Scandal? I do. It's terrible, really, because by that time of night my eyes are scratchy and my body really wants to sleep. But my brain – it is so excited. It is excited because it knows we will be taken on an adventure of epic proportions. Unexpected things will happen, clues will be dropped, dead ends will shock us. People we like will do things that absolutely blow our minds – things we didn't think they were capable of (if you watch the show, you know exactly who I mean.) My brain loves to guess and theorize and looks for signs as the episode evolves. In short – it loves trying to solve the mystery set before us in the show.
Downton Abbey does this, too – just in a completely different time era and with a very different feel (the rest of it is shockingly similar if you think about it).
Television writers and producers create these exciting mysteries because they know they captivate us. And we can look at the wild success of these shows and confidently use these same strategies in our own communicating to have a similar effect.
So, let's do that. I'll show you some ways you can use the “our brain loves a puzzle” in your own communication, even if you aren't “dating” the president or the sudden and unexpected heiress of a huge estate.
In service of our goal to use a “puzzle” to captivate, I'll cover three things:
- What is a puzzle for communication purposes?
- When do I use a puzzle to captivate?
- How do I resolve the puzzle in a way that helps me reach my communication goal? (Such as convince my boss, land the client, etc.)
Sound good? Alright.
What is a puzzle for communication purposes?
A puzzle is when you offer up part of the information – enough to get their attention and peak their interest – but then leave out the conclusion and wrap up. Essentially, you leave them guessing for a while.
When do I use a puzzle to captivate?
Use this mystery-building, puzzle strategy when you want to get and keep the attention of your audience for a sustained period of time. It is not ideal to create a puzzle when your audience is there to get a simple “how to” from you – this could frustrate them terribly. There are exceptions, but this is a generally good rule to follow. Other captivation strategies are better for these kinds of communication – like using compelling visuals and storytelling.
How do I resolve the puzzle in a way that helps me reach my communication goal?
This is the most exciting part of the puzzle strategy! The resolution of the puzzle can be a super fun way to lead your listener straight to your desired outcome. For example, the story you tell in the beginning gets resolved at the end by the main characters using your product to solve their problem – but in a completely unexpected way! A special note here: don't hype up a story at the beginning that has a boring, obvious ending. So, in this example I'm sharing, if the main character simply used your product and their problem got solved, your audience will roll their eyes and feel like they just attended a bad infomercial. If you are going to use this kind of story, be sure the ending really is exciting and unexpected – even if it does lead right back to your product or service.
Here – let me give you some examples of how you can use puzzles and mystery to captivate your listeners:
- Tell an engaging story to begin your speech, one that they are excited to hear resolve… then, before telling the end, say, “I'll tell you what happened for our lovely friends in this story at the end of our talk today. I think you will be very surprised by how this all ended up.” (Intrigue, right?!)
- In your next company meeting, hand out a slip of paper that has something written on it then tell them to listen for the answer in your talk: For example, write “You are the wool spinner.” Tell everyone that they will learn what this means if they pay really good attention during the meeting. (Maybe they win a prize if they are the first to figure it out?)
- During a meeting or speech, prompt your listeners early on with a challenge: Like this: “There are three ways I can think of that we can go with this. At the end of our talk today, I'd love to hear what you think those are. Bonus points if you think of one I haven't thought of yet! You all have a piece of paper in front of you so you can take notes.”
All of these are mysteries that engage attention. Can you see how they would activate a part of the brains of your listeners that we simply don't think to activate in our communication most of the time?
Can you also see just how easy it can be to implement on these? All it takes is some thinking ahead and intention to captivate. From there, it's just a fun few minutes of creative thinking and implementation.
Go try them out. Let us know how it goes. Share in the comments any ideas you have or things you've tried in the past. I'd LOVE to add more captivating puzzle works to my own communication and I know our whole community would love to learn from you, too.
Now – here's a puzzle for you.
Where can you get a truly useful, easy to implement plan for captivating and inspiring anyone? And let's sweeten this mystery even more. Where can you get this at no cost to you? The answer is somewhere on this very page upon which you rest your eyes. Happy hunting! (Notice how your brain just lit up?)
Puzzle heart photo credit here.
Good article. Thank you for posting this.
I’m happy you enjoyed it, Lilia. Thanks for coming by to read.
This is so fun! The art of story telling. I am a performer at heart… but it odd that during my workshops and speeches I forget to be playful. I can still be the expert and create a mood of mystery and intrigue. Great examples! Thank you so much!