Ryan Leatherbury

Business. Tech. Life

How a Giraffe Mastered Audience Engagement

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Over the break, our family visited a massive Christmas light show, and the only thing more impressive than 3.8M synchronized lights was an act by a mechanical giraffe and tortoise. Aside from being entertaining, they were a textbook example of how to engage an audience.

The same rules apply if you’re putting on a demo at an industry conference or a skit for kids at a light show. Here’s what they did:

Photo Credit: © Judy Hedding

Photo Credit: © Judy Hedding

Use Contrasting Characters. In the 1950’s sitcom Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden was big and quick-tempered. Ed Norton was slim and easy-going. Earlier 20th century slapstick guys Laurel and Hardy was also contrasts. Big with Short. Tall with Slim. Loud with Quiet. Its a timeless formula. So when you look way up at Jenga, the talking Giraffe, you wonder who it is he’s talking to at first. Then you see the tortoise named Tortuga down below.

Create a Spectacle. More energy and excitement equals more people. P.T. Barnum always thought big and used elephants, big tops and lights to draw attention. So using a giraffe that can be seen 100 yards away had the same effect. It definitely gets noticed from far away.

Peak Interest with Quiet Conversation. The low key banter between Jenga and Tortuga drew you closer and made you want to listen in. This is the reverse effect of loud, obnoxious advertisements that you immediately turn off. We tend to listen closer to whispering over yelling. This contrast of characters you couldn’t quite hear but wanted to worked great with the visual spectacle of being larger than life that made you notice.

They were Approachable. Even though Jenga the Giraffe towered above the crowd, kids aren’t afraid of giraffes or mild mannered, slow-moving tortoises like Tortuga. Kids moved closer with lots of curiosity without hesitation. I doubt this would have been the case had Jenga been a lion, tiger or bear. Great choice of characters. They found the right balance between being attention-getting and being unapproachable with too much commotion, fur and fluff.

Made Them Laugh. No one goes out to hear dry talk about the weather, so make them laugh. These guys were funny, quick witted and adjusted their act with the audience. They didn’t force humor with canned jokes. They just commented on their surroundings without making anyone uncomfortable. And a little self-deprecation went a long way.

Ask Questions. Jenga and Tortuga asked the audience a lot of personal questions that turned the crowd from passive observers into active participants. Where are you from?  Where did you get those nice shoes? What are you doing here with your sister (knowing that the person being asked was probably the mom). Smart giraffe.

Call a Rose by its Name. Your favorite word is your name. At least it usually is. And for kids there’s nothing like having your name be the centerpiece of the conversation.Once Jenga and Tortuga picked out a young girl in the crowed and learned her name, they weaved it right into their on-going dialogue. Of course she lit up and completely fell like she was part of the act now. And so did her parents.

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Ryan Leatherbury • January 11, 2015

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