Learn the rules of the game with play.
Learn the rules of the game with play.

What games can teach you about engaging your audience

Want to engage your customers? Play more.

Everyone is looking for ways to engage users — whether they are an employer, a marketer or an educator — we are struggling to get and then keep the attention of the people we are trying to speak to.

This post will explore what engagement is, and provide some practical tools on how to engage people based on lessons learnt from games. But first, what does it mean to engage someone?

Engagement is really about getting someone’s attention and keeping it for long enough to get your message across. Sounds easy, but in a noisy world where everyone seems to be screaming for airtime, not so easy to do.

Especially if you’re the new kid on the block.

But games manage to get it right all the time, so what exactly is it that makes games so engaging? And how can we use that in our work environment to get the same results without patronizing or insulting our people?

1. Include An Element of Surprise

Habits are one of the most powerful things and if it wasn’t for habits, there would be a lot more road accidents for one. But habits are also one of the most boring things and the more predictable, the less interesting something is.

To engage your audience you need to find a way to break your predictable habits.

Do or say something that your audience doesn’t expect.

Try stopping sending out your regular newsletter for a few weeks. People might not immediately notice, not consciously in anycase, that you didn’t send it out, but when you start sending it out again, they will notice that you are back and will want to see what you are saying and what they missed.

Another example of how adding something unexpected (like sound) to something not usually associated with sound (a trashcan) engaged bypassers, watch this video called The World’s Deepest Trash Bin. Not only were the users engaged, their behavior was changed as a result of the change.

2. The Goldilocks effect

Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right.

Teaching teenagers are probably the hardest demographic group to communicate to as an educator, and trying to engage them sometimes seems like an impossible quest.

I discovered that even though they were able to recite the correct answers with the resources at hand in class, they didn’t comprehend and thus remember a thing once they left the classroom. I started playing Junior Scrabble with them as a warmer using cards rather than the board, only to discover that they struggled to come up with simple 3 letter words, let alone use it in a sentence.

I dumped the books, as even though it was excellent books and easy enough with everything indicating that it was the correct resource to use, it was way too hard for them, but they weren’t willing to loose face and admit it in front of their peers. The ‘dumbed down’ version of the class immediately got them engaged and increased their learning exponentially.

Similarly, in order to get your message across, you need to speak the language of the recipient, not the other way around. You need to figure out what your audience wants to know, what questions they have that you can answer and what language they will understand. Simple language is usually the best.

3. Provide a purpose

If people feel that they are part of something, rather than simply being a passive observer, they immediately are more engaged and likely to act or respond.

The question you need to ask is how can I involve my audience more in my work?

It can be as simple as asking for comments or completing a poll, but more powerful is to include them in a real project. Crowdsource a simple task, or ask them to help you define your requirements or test. And then use it and do what they suggested. Nothing as bad as being asked for my opinion and then ignoring it. Give your audience a real-world challenge. Make them part of the solution.

In the classroom I embarked on a project to translate a novel that a student wrote, and for an excellent example of how this was done to gain more followers before the launch of a movie, look at The Dark Knight marketing campaign to see how thousands of people acted out real life challenges before the launch.

4. Change it. Often.

It is important to be consistent in your message and in your marketing, however it is as important to change your content and your message from time to time.

From my personal experience, I cannot tell you how many influential people I’ve discovered and were hooked on their materials, but as soon as I’ve figured out their essence, they bored me and I unsubscribed. I still love and respect them and listen to their opinions, but I lost interest in their regular communication and don’t even open their posts on Twitter.

No matter how good your message, in order to engage an audience you need to keep changing. Change the frequency of your message, add a different perspective, try partnering with someone that complements your service, rebrand, or add new products and services from time to time.

The important thing to keep in mind is to find a balance between consistency and freshness. You are aiming for fresh, not inconsistent or being perceived not knowing who you are yourself. People love ‘new’. New perspectives, new knowledge, new partnerships. Keep it fresh.

5. Keep secrets

There is nothing that elicits curiosity such as leaving out essential information. That is why we love puzzles and mystery novels or series on TV. We love not knowing who the guilty party is and will watch until we’ve figured it out. But once we know all the answers, we loose interest.

To engage your audience, keep something from them that will give them a reason to come back. End with a question, or leave out something not so obvious that will keep them wondering what is coming next. Be one step ahead and always know where you are heading.


Engagement is about making something interesting and looking at games can teach us a lot about how to engage our audience.

So next time you’re out of ideas or feel stuck, pull out a game and play.

Originally published on Medium: https://medium.com/teal-times/what-games-can-teach-you-about-engaging-your-audience-868d78d52218