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Wow your audience as much as you can, but …

There’s way too much emphasis on the WOW effect, and way too little on the AHA effect.

It sometimes feels like the whole communication industry is obsessed with the WOW effect.

While I don’t see much talk about the AHA effect.

But.

What use is it when your audience cheers for “What a great show it’s been!” when what you actually want them to cheer for is “what a great idea that is!”

Don’t get me wrong. Wow your audience as much as you can.

But keep in mind that WOW only opens the mind. It’s the AHA that changes the mind.

What’s your take on WOW vs. AHA?

A great show

WOW opens the mind.
AHA changes the mind.

So much advice on public speaking focuses on the WOW effect.

How to turn the spotlight onto yourself.
How to put on a great show.
How to dazzle your audience.

But do you want your audience to cheer for your great performance or for the brilliance of your idea?

If it’s the latter, then WOW will only get you half the way.

To get all the way, consider turning the spotlight around and onto your audience.

Sure, put on a great show if that’s your thing. But make your audience the star of the show.

And shine a bright light. Yet not to dazzle but to light your audience the path to a profound insight.

It’s so much more fun.
It’s so much more worthwhile.

Best of all, AHA moments tend to last longer than WOW moments.

What’s your take on this?

Relevance beats elegance

If I can’t relate to a speaker’s words, it doesn’t matter how beautiful their slides are, how elaborate their body language is, or how creative their storytelling is.

It might be nice but it’s also pointless.

If, on the other hand, they manage to make it highly relevant, I will tolerate an ugly slide or two and a little nervousness.

In other words, work on your story’s relevance before you begin to work on the show.

The good news is that when it’s relevant, a great show will only amplify the impact.

The WOW vs. AHA Matrix

We can all agree that you never want to be in the bottom left quadrant.

But surprisingly, there are strong proponents for the top left and bottom right quadrants.

The genius who refuses to make an impact sits in the top left. They have huge talent and brilliant ideas but they are wasting their talent because they can’t get people to pay attention to their ideas. Worse, they almost refuse to get bigger attention because they insist that

  • “this is how our customers expect it”,
  • “WOW” is a trickster skill of the show-offs,
  • “getting attention” equals “click bait”, and
  • “great work will prevail”.

They’ll never make it to the top right.

In the bottom right sits the show-off who dazzles the audience but lacks substance. They are brilliant at getting their audience’s attention but leave them short of a profound insight. Worse, they almost refuse to make an impact because they insist that

  • “this is how it’s done”,
  • “how you say it is more important than what you say”,
  • “people are bored by the details”, and
  • “we need more bang”.

They’ll never make it to the top right, either.

Here’s the thing:

Without attention, people won’t hear your story.
Without substance, your story won’t make an impact.

The point is that this is not either-or. You need both.

WOW opens the mind. AHA changes the mind.

Keep lighting the path and make a bigger impact!

The Zip Line

Alex: For my last talk, I had a grand entrance on a zip line to give a wow effect.
Casey: That’s daring! What was the feedback?
Alex: They all loved the entrance, but asked if I could zip out and back in with some clearer points.
Casey: Ah, the difference between a flying start and a landing thought!

Wow effects get you only half-way there. Change happens when you lead your audience all the way to a profound aha moment.

Should Taylor Swift really perform at your product launch?

When you manage to get Taylor Swift to perform at your company press conference it will almost certainly get you a wow from your guests. But that’s no substitute for the resonance that your actual announcements do or do not create.

Tonight, Apple will stream their newest keynote. I found this piece by Alex Cranz interesting in which she observes:

No one else in the tech space has had the same success as Apple at getting people to treat their announcements as big events. Nearly every single major tech company has tried. Sony had Taylor Swift at a CES keynote, and Samsung marched out a member of BTS to applause at a Galaxy Unpacked event. Google had the Slo-Mo guys. Intel had dancers and acrobats festooned in LEDs. But something about an Apple event seems to resonate more with folks.

Here’s the thing: People don’t watch a tech announcement to see Taylor Swift. And there’s no aha effect in seeing dancers and acrobats perform. It might create attention and, thereby, “open the mind” of the viewers.

But it doesn’t change minds. It’s merely wow. But wow without aha is mostly harmless. Just look at all these hilarious ads. What was that ad about, again?

Apple understands its customers better than most. Their goal for the keynotes is not to wow them with random show acts. Apple wants to provide their fans with aha moments about the products they love.

These aha moments might not resonate with everyone, but that is precisely why Apple can strengthen their resonance with loyal fans. It’s an aha that’s not meant for everyone. But it’s an aha for their fans – often without any wow on top (I mean, how many of their latest keynotes were you blown away by? And yet, if you’re an Apple fan, you’re going to watch this one …).

If you feel like you need a star act to make your event appealing, perhaps it’s time to find the inherent value in your products … and the words that create strong resonance with the people who truly matter.

Open to change

Wow opens their mind. Aha changes their mind.

Both are better together.

Aha moments can’t happen when your audience doesn’t pay attention. Wow moments are great at getting you attention.

But wow moments get you only half way there. After all, what use is it when people cheer about what a great show it’s been when what you actually want them to cheer for is your idea?

When you’ve opened the door, walk through and take your audience all the way to a profound aha moment.

Applause vs. impact

If you could pick only one, applause or impact, what would you choose?

Now, if you scroll through your timeline on social media, how do you think did the creators on that timeline choose respectively?

And what were the results for them?

Who got the applause?
Who got the impact?

The day after

The keynote was a great success. Standing ovations.

“What a great presentation!”
“You’re a natural born presenter!”
“That was quite the roller-coaster ride! What a brilliant show!”

And yet, the day after, nothing happens.

Because it’s never about “What a great show!” but always about “What a great idea!”

The wow effect brings you the excitement in the moment. But that excitement always fades. Sometimes later, but mostly sooner.

That’s why you need to take your audience beyond the wow effect – all the way towards a profound aha effect.

Aha effects last much longer.

PS: Happy to help.

How is clarity to be achieved?

“And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.” — F. L. Lucas

Wow effects are easy to achieve. When in doubt, throw money at the problem. Samsung, for example, has put entire orchestras on stage during their keynotes.

Wow effects rarely increase clarity, though. Also, you don’t even need clarity to achieve a wow effect.

Aha moments are different. You can’t buy an aha effect.

The aha effect requires effort. It requires you to do the work and think things through. You’ll have to see your audience to understand where they’re coming from and what matters to them. You’ll have to understand their language so that you can find the words that lead everyone in your audience to see what you see.

Aha effects require clarity. Clarity requires effort.

But it’s worth the effort. Because while wow effects usually fade quickly, aha effects often last.

The best way to think about wow effects is as a door opener to your audience’s connection. But once you’re in, lead them all the way to an aha moment.

Spread the Word

Picture of Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz