[Colin + Gemma + Zico] on how to hook your audience: the latest in-person workshop experience

@zico @cgeraghty @gemma5teva

Last week we attended the workshop “How to Hook Your Audience”, an event held in person at the Graduate Center aimed at sharing helpful tools and strategies designed to better craft research narratives in both an informative and engaging way. The session was led by Dr. Machulak, the founder of a company that supports both scholars and professionals in bringing their research and ideas to either new or different contexts. Dr. Machulak is also a writer and editor.

The three of us individually decided to join this seminar, but immediately agreed on the opportunity of doing something different by deciding to co-write this post. The idea is to share our views and takeaways, while avoiding potential repetitions on describing the contents and dynamics of the seminar.

In an effort to allow the reader to compare and contrast our personal takeaways and learning experience, we came up with four questions that we decided to separately answer before finetuning the below “interview style” blog post.

Premise: the workshop revolved around 3 key points:

  1. how to deliver the same message, or argument, to different people;
  2. ways of studying and approaching these audiences;
  3. suitability of communication channels based on the above.

Questions we asked ourselves:

1.The moderator described the perfect ‘hook’ as the interception among logos, ethos, and pathos or, in plain English, rationale (or argument), audience, and credibility. Do you agree? If so, in your view, what are the main challenges?

[Colin answers] I sort of agree. Incorporating rationale, audience, and credibility into your hook is great. But I also think that the main challenge could be ending up in overthinking the product: a hook is a hook! It doesn’t necessarily have to sound too clever or anything – that can come later, possibly after you’ve already grabbed an audience’s attention. Even if the hook seems an unsophisticated clickbait, most people will still take that bait – even though they would never admit it!

[Gemma answers] Similarly to Colin, I only sort of agree. Certainly, reading the audience is important, alongside with ensuring that the argument presented is solid, however, credibility could be an issue. Credibility is something that gets built over years, generating a number of difficulties for students who might have, undeniably, valid theses to present, but not that immediate confidence that would translate into authority into the eyes of the audience. Other challenges might rotate around non-native English speakers or international individuals who might find the current lingua franca an impediment to their credibility.

[Zico answers] I kind of agree. However, the challenge lies within the answer. At a glance, questions around logos, ethos, and pathos seem straightforward; nevertheless, answering these questions is rather difficult. At some point, to cater to or hook the audience, one might have to pivot and present ideas in a different way, and this might be extremely challenging.

2. How can what you have learnt at the workshop be applied to Digital Humanities?

[Gemma answers] Digital humanists, by nature, heavily rely on online platforms which, inevitably, entail a huge exposition to different types of audience. As for everything, the keys are the message and who the message is intended for. Hence, simultaneously crucial are the intention and the crafting process. It might sound obvious, but one’s message goes hand in hand with the communication style and the distribution channel/s chosen. In brief, do not assume your audience understands you; do your due diligence, spend some time to prepare, and do not be afraid of tailoring your research to meet your listeners’ or viewers’ needs. 

[Colin answers] Hooking your audience with DH is a different, but exciting, challenge. And that’s why we’re here! For instance, Dr. Machulak showed us the photograph below to showcase what a good hook looks like; in this case the cougar was portrayed to visually represent what 2 meters (6ft) looks like in the context of social distancing.  This sign is also a great example in terms of incorporating Aristoteles’s principles of persuasion. An image or using some form of multimedia to hook your audience, done right, could be a more powerful draw than words.

[Zico answers] The approach introduced by Dr. Machulak might be extremely helpful to push DH projects outside the academia universe. Since asking questions like who we have left behind is at the core of DH, I believe that, by following the logos-ethos-pathos structure, serving a broader audience will be achievable.

3. How could the tension between public and academia be addressed when trying to hook multiple communities outside academia with your research?

[Zico answers] In my opinion, the tension between the public and academia lies within the expectations. Publics expect results while academic research not only has to come up with them but must also address ethics and morals that surround the approach chosen to produce those results. To address the tension between the public and academia, academic research often has to rephrase the message by adopting an audience-first approach, where results will shadow critical topics like ethics and morals. I am not in favor of wall gardening the critical aspects, but highly believe that higher abstraction is a requirement of greater magnitude.

[Colin answers] Identify the specific tension your research brings between academia and the public: most of the times, the tension is just a misunderstanding between two parties, so stating the miscommunication in your hook could be a great way to bridge the gap. Nevertheless, there will be times where you won’t be able to get beyond stubbornness. In those cases, you should use the Context/Audience(Broad)/Audience(Specific) approach learned at the workshop that helps to tailor your hook based on your public and how to ensure the latter actively engages in your research and ideas.

[Gemma answers] There should be no tension in first place, however, sadly, some form of gap is there. In this sense, an academic audience might need far less details when it comes to technical explanations of terminology and contents but could require higher level of information on one’s work’s limitations and methodology. On the other hand, an audience made of non-technical individuals, might not even be aware of issues related to the methodology used, hence the hook should reflect that.

With this in mind, it was interesting for us when a CUNY neuroscientist, who was attending the workshop with us, brought to our attention how she was struggling in explaining to the general public how brain waves work. It was thought-provoking as she confessed to us how “easy” it had been to present her thesis to a purely academic audience, while now having issues in handling non-experts’ expectations and questions. 

4. Overall, what’s the most important thing you’ve learnt?

[Colin answers] Overall, Dr. Machulak presented her material well, and her qualifications on the topic were evident. I particularly liked how she asked us not to disclose any personal projects any of us would choose to share with the group. The most important thing I have learned was the idea of incorporating Aristotle’s principles of persuasion into a hook. Easier said than done, but that will stick with me.

[Gemma answers] My main takeaway rotates around the importance of being able to situate any work I would like to present in the right context, which includes ensuring that my rationale (what are my core claims and evidence?), credibility (why am I the best person to make this argument?) and audience (how will I connect with my target audience?) are intersecting in a point where my hook will become effective and memorable.

[Zico answers] How to introduce academic research into a project and attract a diverse public has always been a difficult question for me to answer. In my opinion, Dr. Machulak’s idea of structuring a project by asking specific questions on the argument presented is extremely helpful. She specifically introduced the terms logos (will it support my immediate argument?), ethos (is it within my areas of expertise?), and pathos (will it resonate with my target audience?). These are all important questions to identify how to hook broader audiences.

2 thoughts on “[Colin + Gemma + Zico] on how to hook your audience: the latest in-person workshop experience

  1. Majel Peters (She/her)

    Interesting to hear see this topic from an academic point of view. All of these principles are inherent to advertising, but the emphasis is usually on wanting your audience to do something (what’s the CTA? (call to action)). Typically you have to figure out how what you want your audience to do fits into the world they live in—what do they care about, how are they already intersecting with what you are offering, what is the benefit of interacting with what you are offering? You have to have empathy for your audience so you can connect. The example of the neuroscientist unable to explain brainwaves seemed to expose a lack of “research” on their new target audience.

Comments are closed.