You Can Find the Creative Sweet Spot to Connect with Your Audience

“The sweet spot of every person lies at the intersection of our greatest strength and greatest passion.” —Ken Coleman

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Has your approach to engage an audience gone awry like a shanked golf ball that speeds away from the cup?

If so, finding the creative sweet spot in your activity will propel your desired result forward.

The sweet spot is the point that creates the most power for the least effort. To visualize this, try the following.

Suspend a golf putter between your forefinger and thumb. Then lightly tap the putterhead on either the toe or the heel. The putterhead turns slightly, but the putter doesn’t swing. Now, tap it where the manufacturer has marked the sweet spot between the toe and the heel. The putter swings like a pendulum, ready to send a ball forward.

3 Examples

1. Connecting with a preschool boy.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At Bible Study Fellowship, a volunteer sat on a chair. She asked a little boy about the car he played with during free play. The boy muttered something as he rolled his car on the rug with pre-printed roads.

She made a connection. But compare it with what I’ve used with preschool boys in several venues. I sit on the floor near the boy. I select another car and a police car. I make my first car speed and then take on the role of the policeman inside my police car. I speak what the policeman thinks and says and sound the police siren as my police car chases my speeding car.

In no time, we’re playing police-chase. Sometimes the boy likes to be the policeman, stopping my speeding car: “You were speeding. Speeding is bad. Here’s a ticket.” I dramatically plead my case, and sometimes I zoom off.

The sweet spot in this case is the dramatic story while entering the boy’s circle of play.

2. Connecting with readers.

inner voiceI wrote four “practice” novels. I received nibbles from editors, but the novels lacked one main thing. When I found it, I had two short stories published and landed a book contract. The sweet spot? Writer’s voice.

Donald Maass says in Writing the Breakout Novel, “By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre.”

After learning other aspects of the craft, I finally had fun and let my inner personality and attitude come through in my writing. Ta-da. My voice.

 3. Connecting with young male prisoners.

nativityWhen I joined a prison ministry, I felt something was missing in the verbal messages.

For the Christmas lesson, I brought in a large nativity scene, and as I told the story of Jesus’ birth, I arranged different scenes from the pieces: Mary, Joseph, an angel, a stable, animals, infant Jesus, and shepherds. After the story, a wide-eyed young man approached me and wanted to know more.

The sweet spot was the drama of my visual scenes.

Like a golfer uses his putterhead’s sweet spot to send his golf ball to the cup, you can find something creative to move your audience.

What have been sweet spots in your activities?

2 Ways You Know Your Activity Is a Success

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” —Albert Einstein

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What Is Success?

Does success have to mean bigger, better, or more? Is it always about the numbers? Followers in social media? Book sales for authors? Class standard-of-learning scores for teachers? All these successes are good and can make things happen, but they often inflict struggles, worries, and hectic living.Keeping Score for the Team

Could we be satisfied with low-stress, joy-producing successes? Could we allow success to be something we don’t expect?

On the series, Castle, mystery novelist Richard Castle asks Detective Kate Beckett, “Do you think we actually saved the world?” (They did.) Kate answers, “I think that we saved a little girl’s life, and that’s enough for me.”

If we think (or pray) about why we’re doing an activity, decide it’s the right thing to do, and prepare for it the best we can, any success associated with it can be enough.

2 Ways You Know Your Activity Is a Success

1. At least one person makes a mental connection from your activity’s message that changes their understanding for the better.

I presented a Christmas Bible lesson for 12 young male prisoners in a stainless-steel lunchroom where the stools were bolted to the table. As I told Jesus’ birth story, I moved the key 12-inch figures of a nativity set to the forefront in little vignettes. The cadets listened intently.

photoThen we broke into discussion groups. The young men discussed what they’d do if they were in Joseph’s situation. When Joseph learned Mary was pregnant, he planned to quietly break his marriage pledge to her. Joseph wanted to avoid exposing Mary to public disgrace. After the angel, Gabriel, spoke to Joseph, Joseph obeyed God’s commands. He married Mary, a virgin, and abstained from intimate relations with her until the world’s Savior was born.

One cadet seemed confused. I answered a couple of his questions. He became reflective while I moved the others on to another lively activity. During the chaos, he approached me and touched my arm. Just the two of us were in a little vignette of our own with the buzz of the other cadets fading into the background around us. His eyes sought mine, and he asked in a soft voice, “Was Jesus born on Christmas?” I joyfully told this young man, who was on the verge of putting Christ into Christmas, an encouraging yes.

2. At least one person considers that what you do makes them a better person, employee, or friend.

As a health actuary, I evaluated financial risk for my employer. The Actuarial Division was challenged to acquire the information needed from the hospital negotiators to produce better company financial forecasts. The negotiators were reluctant to share confidential data. They claimed they didn’t have time to put together numbers for us.

I had an idea how we could help the negotiators and get the information we needed for our forecasts. My boss gave me the go ahead.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My team delivered good hospital data to the negotiators so they could produce better proposals. Leary at first, the negotiators soon depended on our data. My team then built interactive spreadsheets the negotiators could enter hospital rates into and quickly produce contract scenarios. They in turn trusted us with their confidential information, sought us for analysis, and on occasion, invited us on negotiations.

Actuaries were able to create good assumptions for company financial forecasts.

When I announced my retirement, one negotiator cried out, “NO!” He thought what I did made him a better negotiator.

What results have you considered successes?

 

5 Elements That Make a Learning Activity a Memorable Experience

 Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

5 Elements That Create a Memorable Experience

  1. Use Layering. Plan several activities that add to, build on, or complement what’s to be learned during the session. (I’ll post a future blog on layering.)
  2. Tell a story. Dry material comes alive when it’s presented through examples, personal stories, drama, and humor. (I’ll post a future blog on storytelling.)
  3. Provide participant involvement. This should be something that pulls people into the experience, better than simply breaking up into discussion groups, if possible.
  4. Allow creativity. Guide the activities, but let people express their individuality as much as possible during the session.
  5. Design something profound to happen. Anything that gives participants a blip of feeling, a smidge of identifying, or a helping of new understanding will seal the session as a memorable experience.

Example:

I prepared a Bible study for our prison ministry on the creation story from Genesis 1. (See another prison ministry example.)

I could’ve planned the normal: have a prisoner (cadet) read the Bible passage aloud, then have them break up into discussion groups led by volunteers asking pre-scripted questions. This works adequately for some participants.

But earlier, I’d led a creation story for Vacation Bible School. I also used the idea successfully for preschoolers in Sunday school and in Bible Study Fellowship. 

I already had the props: Large, made-from-cloth sun, moon, stars, clouds, and day and night skies. Long lengths of material for water, earth, sand, and grass. Crumpled grocery-bag rocks. Artificial plants and trees. Numerous plastic insects, ocean creatures, and reptiles. Feathered fake birds and stuffed animals.

As twelve cadets filed in, volunteers welcomed them and handed them an item. Curiosity crept onto their faces as they accepted a spider, a flower, a folded length of material, or a furry bear.

The cadets sat in a wide circle of chairs. Volunteers distributed the rest of the creation items evenly among them.

Dressed in a Biblical robe, I launched into a dramatic narrative based on the Genesis scripture.

When the water was to be gathered into seas and dry ground was to appear, I invited cadets who had lengths of blue, brown, and sand-colored materials to spread them on the floor within the circle. Soon I called for vegetation. Cadets set flowers, plants, and trees wherever they wished on the green and the earthy-colored materials.

When night was to be separated from day, I asked tall prisoners to hang the sky-blue and black materials on the wall. Then I called for the sun. The cadet who possessed the sun attached it to the Velcro on the blue sky. Same for the moon and stars on the black sky. 

As I summoned sea creatures and birds, conversations and suggestions began buzzing among the cadets. Finally, I called for reptiles, insects, and animals. Cadets took care to place their creatures on trees, rocks, sand, and grass.

Imagine what that space looked like. One cadet pronounced it beautiful.

Here’s the something profound. I asked them what was missing. Some cadets said, “People!” I invited them to come into our creation. They sauntered in and sat on the colored cloths among the plants and creatures. Some cradled stuffed animals while others toyed with lobsters or birds. 

Then we discussed the experience. Many hadn’t thought much about what God created, but during that moment they were keenly aware of what a wonder creation is.

What profound element have you added to a session that worked?

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