Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Clever Communicator 

There is a young and apparently upcoming magician in the UK named Derren Brown who can teach one a thing or two about communications. He does stunts that he explains afterwards so one can appreciate the fine points of his skill. There is a wonderful site here that shows videos of several of his mind-bending tricks with his explanations of how he did them.

What's clever about much of what Brown does is his manipulation of language and communication to distract an individual, to suggest an action or to determine what the individual is thinking. The first clip of his work is getting people to fall asleep in telephone boxes. This is a trick of pure communications since he lets the phone ring until someone picks it up. Then he bombards the person with a confusing set of instructions and statements for 10 minutes before ordering them to fall asleep. They do. His explanation of this trick contains insights into communications and politics that it are worth remembering.

If we feel that our brains are being overloaded with information, we panic and start to become confused. In this situation, if we're given a simple instruction, we grasp it like a lifeline. This technique is used in tricks to persuade people to behave in ways that are completely out of character. When commands are issued at the end of a stream of confusing instructions, people are so relieved they can finally understand what's being said that they will do whatever they're told.

Public speakers often capitalise on the same response. Have you ever listened to a politician giving rapid-fire statistics so fast that the audience can't possibly take them in, only to end the speech with a simple, memorable phrase? The soundbite comes as such a relief after all those facts and figures that this is all the listeners remember.

I suspect most of us have considered this sleight of words at one time or another, but if not, know that it works. You can even put an audience to sleep.


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