Skip to main content

Bad marksman

Richard John leaves us with a cliff-hanger, saying event marketers shouldn’t give everything away

What’s the difference between a bad marksman and a constipated owl? I’ll get back to you, because you want to know. I know you do; I’ve just subjected you to the Zeigarnik Effect. Thank Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik for that, a Russian psychologist who proved that we strange humans have a greater memory for incomplete or interrupted tasks. Why else do TV programmes finish with a roll of the drums and a cliff-hanger with each episode?

You’ll see it among the audience for magicians; the dove has flown out of a pocket, so all eyes are now on the performer, looking for tell-tale clues and trying to work out where we failed to keep up with the trick. Or look at the popularity of Killing Eve, where (plot spoiler) the beautiful assassin staggers off having been stabbed; we need to know what has happened to her.

There’s certainly a Russian theme this month; Zeigarnik’s colleague was Maria Ovsiankina, who gave name to the tendency for humans to have an ‘increased tendency to refocus on an interrupted or unexplainable action while it is still unresolved.’ Think of a row with a loved one which really plays on your mind, and then becomes a distant memory after you’ve kissed and made up.

But what’s the point of this? Well, for those readers involved in marketing, whether it’s venues or services, how often do you focus your messages on telling everything, rather than creating a degree of mystery? Asking challenging questions, or posting an abstract image, or starting with a profound quote that has the recipient thinking ‘I need to know more?’ For anyone who has to speak from the stage, how about a challenging question for your question that you don’t rush to answer? Simple, but effective.

The late comedian Ronnie Corbett did this perfectly, starting with the opening line of a joke and then wandering off on hilarious, apparently random (but carefully crafted) asides, holding the audience in the palm of his hand as they waited for the punchline. 

Our desire is for closure: the question I posed you at the start? Well, a bad marksman shoots, but can’t hit…