Friday, October 28, 2011

Communicate Creative: The Bird Bird Effect

You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.  — Lee Iacocca

In school I was very scatter-shot in learning and getting good grades.  If I liked the class, I did well.  If I liked the class and the teacher, I would perform even better.  If the class or teacher could not keep my attention I struggled.

Mr. Adeleman was my computer teacher with straggly long hair, mustache, and a bow-tie; he looked like an extra on the set of a Shakespeare play.  He had my attention. Throughout the year I would have his attention as well.

I would act up intentionally in the class and when he would come over to my computer to verbally discipline me, I would record his voice, unbeknownst to him.

When he would discipline other students I would wait until the class grew quiet and play back Mr. Adelemen's austere voice thru my computer speakers

The class would erupt in laughter.

And that is when this nerdy high school student learned that technology could capture an audience.

Although the illustration may sound a little childish, there is a children's program that knows the power of technology to capture a child's attention; Sesame Street.  I have broken down a number of key principles of how Sesame Street uses technology that can be transferred to when you communicate (with or without puppet training).
Five Key Principles How Sesame Street Can Improve Your Communication.

1. Ernie's Elbows (Great Execution)

My son likes Ernie a lot, he calls him "E."  After watching Ernie, I became fascinated with how "E" would operate.  He seemed so real.  One person alone could not operate him.  After doing some research, I learned that it took two people to make Ernie come to life.   Whatever illustration medium you use make it look seamless, never show the "elbows." I have enjoyed using Powerpoint, and now Keynote to teach or preach.  It is a great visual aid but I needed someone to run the laptop when I was on stage.  The two person job did not always flow well.  Connecting the iPad to the Macbook thru a keynote remote app it can create a pretty cool teaching experience by allowing one person to control two objects.  You do not always need the latest techie device but whatever tool or illustration you use remember to hide "Ernie's elbows."

Jim Henson + Puppetier = Ernie's Elbows 

2. True Mud, Mad Men, I'm Yours (Culturally Relevant)

Sesame Street has always been able to get major celebrity appearances from Paul Simon and Billy Joel back in the day to more current artists like Usher and Jason Mraz.  TV shows have also gone under a muppet-makeover, like True Blood and Mad Men.  Although most young children may not recognize the pop references, their parents do.  It is a way to draw in the casual viewer.  Being culturally relevant allows the person on the fringe to connect and be drawn into the lesson. "Unlike a certain purple dinosaur we could name, Sesame Street is something even grown-ups like to watch. It's the show's prolific use of satire that keeps big people glued to the set."  Sesame Street has been on the air for more than 40 years, Barney and Friends has been on hiatus since 2009.  Being culturally relevant is not everything, but it does help to engage your audience and keep things fresh.

3. ABC is Key (Content is King)

Sesame Street would not have the reputation of a great children's program if it didn't actually teach the children to learn.  Content is the foundation for the illustrations to built on, not the other way around. Lisa Guernsey of Newsweek had this to say about Sesame Street, "Sesame Street is no ordinary nonprofit. It is, arguably, the most important children's program in the history of television. No show has affected the way we think about education, parenting, childhood development and cultural diversity, both in the United States and abroad, more than Big Bird and friends." My son has learned to recognize the letters of the alphabet and Sesame Street is big reason for that.  Especially from watching catchy and educational videos like this one, "Here we go..."

4. The Big Bird Effect (Visually Sticky)

Sesame Street has been on the air for over 4 decades but it almost did not make it past the first 4 episodes.  In the beginning stages of the program, the fantasy moments were separated from the real life street segments, (think Mr. Rogers Neighborhood). When the show transitioned to only the adults, the children watching would instantly tune out.  The production team had to find a way to make the message stick and keep the kids engaged for the full hour or Sesame Street would never be aired.  Enter Jim Henson and say hello to Big Bird. "What we now think of as the essence of Sesame Street--the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults--grew out of a desperate desire to be sticky," says Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.  Whether it be thru a creative stage design, engaging keynote presentation, or even a physical illustration, do not just talk about story, show the story.  "The medium is the message," is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan.  The medium creates a symbolic connection with the audience.  Big Bird is Sesame Street and Sesame Street is Big Bird.

Big Bird says H is for...?

5. Elmo Loves You (Heart)

My son likes Ernie, but he love Elmo.  I believe one of the reasons he loves Elmo is because Elmo represents love.  Elmo has heart.  Elmo is always expressing his love whether it be to a toddler visiting Elmo's World or an object like his tricycle.  In the midst of all media and technical elements you can add to a lesson it is ultimately you that your audience will connect with. If you genuinely love your topic and genuinely love your audience that will be far more effective than latest trend or crafty illustration.  When I was going thru my training to become a substitute teacher, I asked a teacher at a local school, what is the main thing you look for in a great substitute?  He responded, "I just want my sub to love the students."  How you love is the filter thru how you communicate.

About that computer class...

If you were wondering about my high school exploits in computer class.  Mr. Adeleman did take a special interest in me.  Although I would get sent to the principle office at times, he collaborated with me on my final presentation. This time he gave me permission to record his voice on the computer, and I got an A for the class.  I am thankful for teachers like Mr. Adeleman who saw thru my quirks to help me realize my potential, and there is no App for that.

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