22 August 2009

The 'detective story' principle and puzzle-solution formats

The last two posts have featured comments on using slides and visual aids by the late Sir Lawrence Bragg.

But he also had a good understanding of the effectiveness of story-telling and leading audiences to the solution of a puzzle in presentations:

'There is a most important principle which I think of as the 'detective story' principle. It is a matter of order. How dull a detective story would be if the writer told you who did it in the first chapter and then gave you the clues.

'Yet how many lectures do exactly this. One wishes to give the audience the aesthetic pleasure of seeing how puzzling phenomena become crystal clear when one has the clue and thinks about them in the right way. So make sure the audience is first puzzled.

'A friend of mine, a barrister, told me, that, when presenting a case to a judge, if he could appear to be fumbling toward a solution and could entice the judge to say "But, Mr. X, isn't the point you are trying to make this or that?" he had as good as won the case.

'One wants to get the audience into this frame of mind, when they are coaxed to guess for themselves what the answer is. Again I fear I am saying the trite and obvious, but I can assure you I have often sat and groaned at hearing a lecturer murder the most exciting story just by putting things in the wrong order.'

(From Advice to Lecturers: An anthology taken from the writings of Michael Faraday & Lawrence Bragg, London: The Royal Institution of Great Britain, 1974, ISBN 07201 04467).

Although Bragg was dealing here with the overall structure of a lecture or presentation, much shorter puzzle-solution formats are also one of the main rhetorical techniques discussed and recommended in my books, and I posted some video clips of them triggering applause HERE.

No comments: