Suspect Plot Devices, Chris Brogan and Prez 2.010 October 2009


As keen students of film and TV drama, Mrs Bizlike and I have identified a concept we call the suspect plot device. This is an initially irrelevant, but ultimately critical detail in a story.

A good example can be found in Carol Reed’s film “The Third Man”. In one scene, Holly Martins, the hero played by Joseph Cotton, is at the apartment of Anna, his love interest. He dangles a piece of string in front of her cat, in a vain attempt to encourage it to play. The cat is unimpressed and leaves, prompting him to remark on its lack of sociability. Anna replies that the cat only liked Harry – her boyfriend, the eponymous third man supposedly killed in mysterious circumstances. Shortly after, we see the cat nestling at the feet of a shadowy figure across the street – the first confirmation that, as Holly has begun to suspect, Harry is still alive.

I had cause to remember our concept of the suspect plot device recently, when running a presentations workshop at the offices of a client. My host and I had been discussing the problem of the ubiquitous “Crackberry” – the communication device to which so many business people are addicted. We agreed how difficult it was to retain anyone’s full attention these days and my host recounted how recently, another trainer at their premises had terminated his own course, mid-way through the day, on noticing that the entire group were e-mailing away and not listening to him.

I expressed my admiration at the nerve of this principled stand. Privately, I wondered whether the trainer would ever work for the organisation again… Simultaneously, I began to ask myself if our conversation was a suspect plot device of my own. Was I about to find myself in the position of having to force such an issue? Whilst the surreptitious thumbing of such devices was an ever present backdrop to my workshop, and indeed any other occasion where the many gather to be addressed by the few, might I be obliged to invoke the house rule (universally ignored) that “Blackberries be switched off during the session as adequate breaks will be provided for that purpose”?

As it turned out, my concerns were only partially but entertainingly justified when, part way through my first input, my own phone began to ring in my pocket! It’s always the person you least suspect, I mused as the delegates laughed and tut-tutted at my breach of the last remaining mobile-phone-at-work taboo.

Gaining and maintaining people’s attention is a continual challenge for us all, not simply limited to the dull and inept if Chris Brogan’s recent experience is anything to go by. Watch his entire presentation take place against a full screen stage display of the continuously updated Backnoise conversation that his speech is stimulating. Observe, as his live audience did, the incredible interplay between what he said and what the screen showed. Watch fascinated as he ignores some comments (those not worth a mention) but deigns to use others to reinforce key points in his talk. Social Media heckling brought out into the spotlight and dealt with!

Now this is a suspect plot device that we should all take careful note of. How exactly will this strange new version of the conversation (Prez 2.0) manifest itself? Stayed tuned (or don’t) and find out next week…

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