Curiosity Engages – how big is a full-sized Gundam?

What on earth is that?
What on earth is that?

At a recent training programme for trainers, i.e. teaching teachers to teach better,  every participant was asked to do micro-teaching. Basically we had to do a short presentation and be critiqued about our teaching ability. Most of my class chose to teach their existing subject in the university, which ranged from cancer research to performance studies. I decided, since my courseware wasn’t ready, to do something a little different. I talked about a pet subject of mine, the Japanese cultural phenomenon known as Gundam.

But Gundam isn’t the topic of this post. Curiosity is. When my little talk about this 30-year-old franchise ended, one of the participants commented about the above photo, which I included in a slide about Gundam as a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Among the various pictures of Gundam artwork, packaging, cosplay and merchandise, I had included the above shot as a teaser to something bigger. She felt that this was very effective in keeping the audience’s attention. They were curious.

Earlier in the programme, we had the opportunity to hear Professor Alex Ip from the Department of Biological Sciences speak about life as academic in the NUS. He is a multi-award-winning teacher and his talk proved why. He teased us right from the beginning about the story of one his students who began as an average-grade pupil. We were curious.

Curiosity and Engagement
Curiosity killed the cat? Have you ever wondered what that means? Well, you can google it to find its literary roots. But this post isn’t about cats getting “killed” (unless you can’t stand kitten videos), it’s about engaging people.

When you are in the business of engaging people online, you have quite a few advantages on hand. For one, information is in a sense just a click, google or comment away. This morning, for example, I was waiting for the bus and surfing my Facebook feed when I saw this:

Smashing Magazine Facebook post
Despite my horrible 3G connection, I couldn’t help looking through the comments (which involved loading “View previous comments”, i.e. more waiting time) because I wanted to learn. I was curious. And I willingly paid precious time in anticipation of it. (Still wondering if “[space] instead of &nbsp” was meant as a joke).

It was engaging because it got me curious. So, when you are designing content to engage your audience, do bear this in mind. The examples in this post can be described as:

  1. Teasers. A picture tells a thousand words, but don’t show them all at once. Here is a gallery of the full-scale Gundam statue built in Japan.

  2. Stories. Prof. Ip’s student, whom he took in despite her unimpressive grades, became an eminent Professor of Oncology herself. It is a classic story of “rags to riches”, professionally speaking. The story that people want to finish reading is the key.(Though, be aware that many of the highly shareable stories you see on Facebook of late are generally of dubious origin; some are unsubstantiatedsome have good intentions but aren’t exactly true; some are funny but still untrue.)
  3. Questions. Ask questions that allow others to fulfill your curiosity, and yourself to fulfill others’ curiosities.

By no means the only ways to leverage curiosity in engagement and content development, but certainly among the consistently effective.

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