6 Ways You Can Use Game Mechanics To Mesmerize A Crowd
And other useful tips for how to effectively manage a live audience. Featuring Steve Shenbaum
I recently watched Steve Shenbaum give an hour long presentation about leadership and business dynamics at the HuB here in Sarasota Florida.
Steve is the Founder and CEO of game on, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, team building, and media training.
Steve is also a master at using game mechanics to teach team unity, cohesion, and open communication.
They’ve worked with brands like Gatorade, NASCAR, the NBA, the NFL Players Association, a number of Fortune 500 corporations, and the who’s who of major universities.
I could go on listing the people that Steve has worked with, but it would be easier to put it like this;
Steve is the guy who teaches superstars and CEO’s how to deal with stardom or stress. Sometimes both.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching him speak on numerous occasions, and each of them have been a special experience. But I had a completely different motivation for wanting to watch this time.
I guess you could say I wanted to take the opportunity to spy on a master communicator and observe the mechanics of how he mesmerizes a crowd.
You see, Steve has a way of making you feel like you are the only person in the room, even when there are hundreds of people all around you.
He has a way of critiquing people publicly that makes them love him even more for having been so brutally honest. A trait that would normally piss people off, but Steve has a superpower that allows him to undress people publicly in the most positive way possible, and THAT is what I wanted to watch.
So as he set out to give a passionate interactive presentation about how to be an effective leader, I sat back to take notes on how to mesmerize a crowd.
I hope you get half the value out of these notes as I got from watching him on stage.
According to Steve, if you want to lead a successful team, you must be willing to go the extra MILE. It’s the core of his business philosophy, and part of a proprietary leadership training system they have developed over at game on.
I’ll go through the components of his MILE philosophy at a high level, along with my thoughts on how they are relevant, and then move into the meat of the article by diving deeper into the mechanics of how he worked the crowd so wonderfully.
Mystery – Always keep the audience wondering what comes next
As someone who tells stories for a living, I often take this idea for granted, but for most people, building intrigue as a leadership skill is not a familiar concept.
Learning how to give people everything they are looking for while also leaving them wanting more means you probably have ninja level story telling skills. Something Steve showed off by setting his stories up, and then leaving the audience on the edge of a cliff before eventually coming back to pull them off.
He would interrupt his story for a short aside with the audience, and every time he did, you could feel the energy of the room, willing him to get back on track and finish the story.
He was teasing the audience, and making it quite apparent that this is also a powerful tool in the context of mesmerizing a crowd.
Incentive – Give the audience a reason to participate
In order to truly mesmerize a crowd, you must engage them early.
Steve made sure to point out that money is a popular incentive, especially when talking about motivating people to work. But he also explained that money is not the only motivation and discussed how money can often create the wrong type of incentive.
If someone is already being paid to work, it becomes necessary to find alternative ways to keep them incentivized to perform at a high level. These are the incentives Steve focuses on in his training, intrinsic motivations.
Laughter – Find a way to soften your message with laughter
Steve was very clear to make sure that everyone knew that we would be laughing with, not at, one another. He would point this out a number of times through the presentation, and you can tell it’s something he holds close to his heart.
He also made sure the crowd understood that being laughed-at in the same setting could be demoralizing and extremely unhealthy for someone emotionally.
Something we would all be well off to remember as a function of our daily lives.
Empowerment – Make the audience believe they can be a better version of themselves
So often the world beats us down and fills our minds with thoughts of self doubt. Steve’s system focuses on helping people unlock the power that they already have inside of themselves.
Through the course of the event, using the mechanics I describe below, Steve had everyone in the room believing they could conquer the world. And he did it all without any corny “Rah-Rah, Woo-Woo” shit either.
So without further adieu…
“Wanna play?” Steve asked a guy in the front row after setting the scene for the entire audience.
“Yeah!” Came the reply.
We were pretending to be seven years old, and he was asking a friend from the neighborhood to play hide and seek.
Steve pointed out that no matter who he asks, they all reply the same way… “Yeah!
Apparently, when it comes to the question of pretending to play hide and seek, CEO’s of major corporations, Major League Ball Players, Hollywood actors, NFL athletes, and even a random guy in Sarasota Florida, all answer the same way. “Yeah!”
“But the crazy thing…” As Steve starts in on his presentation, “is that there is no winner in the game hide and seek.”
As adults, we are accustomed to having a winner. Someone always needs to “win” something, because after all, we need to get paid, we need to eat, and we need to provide for our families.
But as children, none of that stress exists. As kids, we’re all ok with running around, hiding and seeking with no need for a real winner or loser. The chase being all the motivation needed to engage with someone, with something… for hours.
It was the perfect introduction to the idea that turning your own presentations into an engaging experience is really what mesmerizing a crowd is all about.
It’s about making the audience feel like they are experiencing something very familiar, but for the very first time. To leave the audience thinking that at any moment, anything could happen.
To leave them sitting there as if they were young children on Christmas Eve. Wanting. Wondering. Waiting.
One of the most interesting parts of the whole night for me was that Steve was being completely open about everything he was doing as he did it. He was actually walking the audience through the process at each step and confirming everything he was doing along the way.
Which brings me to step 1 of mesmerizing a crowd.
The first thing Steve did when he came out on stage was to ask the crowd for permission. He reassured them with positivity, explained a few ground rules, and then asked for their permission to proceed.
I have seen other performers do this, and I never really thought about it much because I never really looked at it from this perspective.
On the surface, it might seem a little silly for the guy who’s supposed to be on stage to ask for permission, but let me explain why I think it is such an important first step.
First of all, it allows the audience to buy in. From the very first moments, they must verbally commit to being present.
Up until that point, their only responsibility had been to show up, but asking their permission to move forward puts the audience back in control, even if only symbolically. They are no longer just along for the ride, they have officially become part of the show.
After asking for permission from the crowd, Steve then engaged a spectator from the front row, and started to dive deeper into the story. This is when he asked the guy in the front row if he wanted to play.
Within a few minutes, he had the whole room re-living their childhood memories of playing hide and seek. Something that allowed him to get everyone in the room to forget that they were supposed to be there learning about leadership, and instead let them thinking about how care-free that time in their lives had been.
In that moment, anything was possible. And from that moment on, the audience was his.
The audience was instantly able to relate to the concept of not needing a winner in a game like hide and seek. Instead allowed the idea of intrinsic motivation to set in without an in-your-face motivational pep talk that might otherwise leave them feeling a little self conscious.
By putting everyone in a familiar place, Steve made everything feel more natural. He allowed us to connect the dots in our own heads, which means the concepts were much more likely to stick. It also means that the ideas he was sharing became more empowering.
It was as if Steve had stopped time, jumped inside our brains and planted a seed that he would then water throughout the rest of the performance.
At times throughout the presentation I forgot I was supposed to be learning about leadership and thought I was sitting inside of a comedy club instead.
I know that not everyone can bring down the house like a professional actor who is formally trained in the art of improvisation, but I needed to point out that being comfortable while presenting your premise is a big part of mesmerizing the crowd.
It becomes impossible for an audience to fully settle in when the presenter themselves is uptight or taking things too seriously.
No one expects you to be perfect, and as Steve pointed out a number of times, neither is he. He did however use those imperfections to his benefit. Making jokes about himself and finding ways to paint the experiences of every day life into beautiful metaphors about how to develop effective leadership skills.
Throughout the presentation Steve took time to embrace the atmosphere in the room and enjoy himself with the audience.
At one point he had the whole room shouting suggestions aloud, and then a moment later, laughing uncontrollably.
Then, he would let the silence set in as he drew us all in for whatever he was about to say next.
It was in those moments when he emphasized his purpose and made his points. In the moments when we were all wondering what he was going to say next. In the moments when you could hear a pin drop in a crowd of almost 200. When the laughter stopped and attention was at its peak.
At one point, towards the end of the presentation, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and asked “Yeah, but what did we learn?”
Up until now everything had been about keeping us engaged and feeding us small bits of information. Placing dots on a map, never letting us see the whole picture.
Eventually Steve would tie it all together and allow us all to connect the dots he had been drawing throughout the night. Once again, allowing us to understand the complete concept ourselves as opposed to him having to spoon feed it to us.
This is how true masters teach their students.
It’s why storytelling is such a powerful tool of persuasion, and why it was only at the end of his presentation that Steve showed us how everything we had just seen could effectively teach us about leadership.
There was no fancy finish, or top-secret super expensive 8-step program that you could purchase in order to keep improving on the concepts Steve was trying to teach us. In fact there was not much at all. When Steve finished, there was only silence, and then, applause.
He had said all he needed to say up to that point, and there was no need for anything else.
The points he made, and the way he made them painted a vivid picture of what he was trying to do. And every part of his presentation lead to one complete thought. After that thought was delivered, the only thing left to do, was bow, and walk off the stage. Which is powerful way to end a presentation like this.
And in my opinion is the purpose of this article, along with any other material that is truly designed to help you empower yourself.
It’s why there is no need for false motivation or loud televangelist style sermons on how to become a better ___________ (fill in the blank).
Because all you really need to mesmerize a crowd is a good story, a well thought out message, and a genuine desire to deliver valuable information to the audience.
And in our digital age, doing those three things right is a powerful recipe for success.
P.s. Don’t forget to practice the shit out of all of it.
Like a short movie playing out in real time, there was a certain cadence to Steve’s presentation that could only come from being well rehearsed, if not choreographed.
It also means that mesmerizing a crowd requires you to be comfortable and confident in the things you are presenting.
In order to become that comfortable, you must practice like a madman. That is something guys like Steve will never tell you, and something you will never see on stage.
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Paint a place so vividly good that everyone would like to go there.
That’s the way. Tell me a story, deliver value, and make me smarter for having spent time listening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.