Successive Revelation

Don’t give it all away at once.

Similar to the nurturing of a relationship; one doesn’t want to pour it all out on the first date and risk overwhelm. Too much, up front, can completely overload the audience early and virtually numb them to further sensation, empathy or inspiration; leaving them inured to subtlety and nuance as the Story or Experience unfolds. They depart “blown away” perhaps, though quite likely not moved as deeply or impressed as compellingly as they might otherwise be, had a lighter hand been used.

Rather, I try to shape the arc of storytelling such that I can share a little, create some curiosity, share a little bit more, pay off a bit of curiosity, share some more and with each, successive revelation ramp up the level of intimacy…the depth of the Experience. With this tool, I make my audiences more and more comfortable; gradually letting down their guard and giving themselves over to the experience through which I plan to lead them.

Sort of like cooking a lobster, I suppose! That virtual water gradually warms, their defenses dissolve and their emotions become mine to “devour” by manipulation. <evil laugh>

Within the previously referenced Stanford film, this dynamic was accomplished obliquely; revealing the modern campus, bit by bit, as the cyclist rode through and past icon and addition…giving the audience brief moment after moment of vision, discovery / recognition, exhilaration…

A well-crafted Experience can unfold through a number of such experiences, each and all created to reveal a piece of story, the answer to a previously-posed question, the solution to a practical riddle or dilemma; building on what has come before as the journey from curtain-up to curtain call continues.

I used to call this, “Gasp and Grasp.” The moniker drawn from the combination of the physical intake of breath as people recognize or appreciate the tidbit being revealed, compelling a subsequent, virtual “reaching-out” for the next morsel of story. Effective use of this technique engages the audience and creates a dynamic whereby they are in a subtle, constant cycle of anticipation and reward…and primed for maximum appreciation should there be an emotional or celebratory final Moment.

In my seminars, I share a slide that that has, in two different fonts, the words:

“That was amazing!”


“That … was amazing!”

That was amazing!

I ask, in these seminars, if anyone can tell me the difference between the two statements. The difference is that the first one is what most Big Experiences deliver, spoken as might a teenager exclaim “That was AWESOME, Dude!” after a rollercoaster ride; this first “That was amazing!” is what most good storytellers deliver to their audiences.

Yet, what I strive for is better represented by the second “That … was amazing!”

This one, spoken in a gentle, thoughtful and almost reverential whisper reflects the speaker having experienced something profound in a way that may be too subtle to even articulate, though it remains with the audience member long after the house has gone dark and the audience departed.

What I seek is to create experience that awaits my guests upon awakening, the following morning…for images and feelings to continue to wash and swirl within them as they kiss their partners Good Morning and share a bit about what they experienced, the evening before…

Don’t give it all away, at once.


“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

Next Week: Subliminal Engagement

Comfortable Disorientation

At the core of my Five Tenets is this one, which would be my favorite were I to pick just one. In order of importance, it’s probably the most important; though, as with anything woven or interrelated, these all do depend on the presence and exercise of the other four in order to be most fully effective.

Labeling the technique Comfortable Disorientation pretty much articulates, in those two words, the quality that I believe underlies the success achieved when the spectrum of these tenets are applied to best effect and the audience members or guests temporarily forget everything outside the Experience to find themselves fully immersed; given over to your control. Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next…

And, that’s the key; Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next.

To create, at one fell swoop, in one instant, both a sense of disorientation and the sense of being safe and taken care-of on the part of your audience: comfort without complacency. To virtually pull the rug from beneath them while assuring them of the presence of the safety net… Effectively executed, this technique results in an immediate, deeper level of trust on the part of the audience and an intangible yet greater willingness to suspend disbelief; to further quiet the left brain and allow us to wrangle their right lobes and take them further into fantasy, reverie, even camaraderie…

Once they know they don’t know; and know that they’re “safe” – the guests become more completely ours for the journey we host… The camaraderie comes from the fact that each individual is experiencing the instant dissolution of preconception (if you will) and the concomitant reassurance that something possibly better and certainly more  interesting may await, and all are sharing this unique, yin/yang at precisely the same moment, in the same time and place. This creates an immediate, deeper connection amongst the audience; as no longer is the experience simply a shared one, it is unique and happening only here, only now.

Theme parks strive for this all the time, often with what I call the Venice Effect; bringing guests through a queue that is often labyrinthine, usually feels a bit cramped — limited sightlines, low ceilings — to then be suddenly released into a space that seems vast by comparison.

This covers the Disorientation part – though not always is it Comfortable…

Creators of Experience virtually always have one of these in play in any created or produced experience or show. It is the presence of both, in the right balance and with the right timing, that has the inherent power to render an experience most deeply compelling and resonant.

This might be accomplished through a move so simple as that of bringing an audience into a theatre or venue via backstage, perhaps starting in an alley with no hint at the ultimate destination space, so there is no Preconception (we’ve Liberated them from that!). They’re backstage before they realize it’s an actual Backstage, then walking across the stage and into the auditorium in the same moment that they actually appreciate where they are… They then have the opportunity to see said auditorium or space, of which they may have a previous experience, from an entirely different perspective.

Disorientation. Comfort.

One of the most effective of my applications of this was for the theatrical tour for Stanford University to which I’ve previously referred. It was simple, powerful, low-tech and inexpensive…

After a day of Conference and a cocktail reception in the format as was and is expected at pretty much any such event, it was time for the doors to open for dinner. The gong sounded, the doors flew open and the guests began to pour into what they thought was the “ballroom”…


A vast, high-ceilinged dark space lay before them. Some thirty yards distant, across the dark floor, was a free-standing, 20-foot, circular curtain curving away from them to left and right; over the top of which spilled a bright, warm light. Their destination was clear, this “island” of light, floating in the darkness; a safe place.

In the darkness between doorway and destination stood a double row of flashlight-bearing volunteers, shining these lights down onto the floor, effectively reassuring those entering the space that there were no cables or cords, trapdoors or obstacles to trip them up on the smooth and clear pathway to the sparkling destination, across the space.

Palette of Preconception thusly cleared and audience effectively disoriented, they were at the same time reassured that this had been thought through; there was no doubt where they were headed and how they were going to get there…intrigue and excitement built, as they still did not know what was behind the curtain.

Once across the space and having passed through the curtained barrier, the guests entered this space-within-a-space to find themselves surrounded with architectural iconography from every decade of the University’s history and most sections of campus, in various sizes and scales, in two and three dimensions as well as by projection. Immersed in the colors, textures and visual cues from their own experiences of their time(s) on campus, as they looked closer, each could see that these icons were juxtaposed with one another in unusual ways; quite dissimilar from their geographical relationships, on campus.

This mixture of differing scales, different formats and dimension, familiar colors and shapes combined to fuel curiosity and intrigue individuals, compelling them to look closer, to explore and become familiar with what had been previously familiar in their past, rediscovering those iconic buildings and installations of which they had had previous experience. Disoriented, and quite comfortably so…

It’s different, every time and for every client or story to be told; it takes application of the previous two Tenets to get to the point of discovering how to Comfortably Disorient. I offer that it’s well worth the work…

This is simply one approach to Comfortable Disorientation; this one for an “event” Experience. The technique, though, can certainly serve as quite effective in Experiential and Pop-up Marketing, Theatrical,

Surprise sans Startle, Awe without Shock, Comfortable Disorientation.

I expect that y’all may well already do some of these same things; this is just what I label it. I hope this is helpful or inspirational in some way.

Again, thanks for reading!

Kile Ozier (kileozier) on

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

Next Week: Successive Revelation

Liberation of Preconception

Crossing the very fine – though deeply nuanced – line that lies between the Minefield of Unexplored Assumption and the Poppyfield of Preconception (that’s an oblique, metaphorical “Wizard of Oz” reference that I just made up…) is where one often encounters what is, essentially, the product of those pesky Assumptions that call for exploration throughout the process of creative development and production.

Preconception springs eternal; from the mounting of a production in a venue, theatre or location with which an audience is already familiar to telling a story the audience is inclined to think they already know…people think they know all the stories and how each is told.

Let ‘em think that…until they are in your control, under your influence; then, turn the proverbial tables. Sometimes this can be as simple as turning a room around and entering through an unforeseen doorway, entering a theatre through the stage door and across the stage, even seating on the stage with the performance coming from various parts of the auditorium. You’ve probably done this sort of thing in your work, installations, productions…

The thing about Preconception is that it’s a Conversation, going on inside the head of an audience member, reassuring that s/he is, indeed, on top of this thing. S/he knows what’s going to happen and what’s next and then what’s next and within seconds of an experience launching, each member of the audience can be rapt in their own, individual reveries and not even paying attention to what you have produced.

On the one hand, this is great; the audience is happy, as they are getting what they expected … they expected to like it and they do. Nice. Nice emotions come to the fore, nice memories come off the virtual shelf. The experience is Nice. I think, though, that we can often go far deeper into the store of cherished experience on which to call when striving to evoke than is most commonly executed.

Example: In creating the opening film for a national tour of campaign experience for Stanford University Alumni, I strove to create something that would re-ignite the wonder and excitement of discovering that campus for the first time. Up to then, pretty much every media piece for the university traditionally opened with a shot of the iconic, main entrance to the campus; Palm Drive, the Oval, the Arches, the Quad, Memorial Church, the foothills in the background or some combination of these. The same tradition was reflected in most major print pieces of the institution.

My theory is that, when presented with such a regular and familiar (though beautiful) litany of imagery, the minds and imaginations of the audience are immediately stimulated to call up the easiest memories; games of frisbee on the oval lawn, who they played with, what a great time were the University Years…within seconds, they’ve left the experience, the narrative that may be unfolding before them and are off on their own, familiar path of reverie. Again, Nice; though perhaps not as deeply moving and compelling as it might be.

So, what we designed was a short, wordless film with a lush, evocative score that began with a solo cyclist in the foothills behind campus. These foothills are protected land, and any experience an alum would have of these would be an intimate one; a lone, exploratory walk, a small, practical seminar, time with a loved one, even a proposal of marriage…no large groups or big experiences. This set the stage, from the outset, for circumventing, for liberating, preconception.

The journey of three minutes took our cyclist out of the foothills and onto campus from behind, taking a bit of a circuitous route past some familiar architecture and landmarks, along the lake, past the stables, down fraternity row, through this plaza and that archway with familiar campus activities taking place as he passed by… The net effect was a tour of campus with quick glimpses of the new, adjacent to the familiar.

Suddenly the clock began to strike and the cyclist realized he was going to be late for class; speeding up as he flew past students and classrooms, arriving at his destination at the final second, just as his (familiar to generations of alumni) professor entered and the seminar began.

As he breathed a sigh of relief, the camera left him and, as the music built, a rapid montage of photos from eleven decades of university history flew past to reveal a panoramic flyover shot of what the audience had expected to see at the beginning of the film; the oval, the church, the quad, the arches… No one was disappointed; and most all were able to see these icons in a different light than had they been presented as matter-of-fact at the beginning.

In the first 30 seconds of the film, the audience went completely quiet, save the occasional gasp of recognition of a building or pathway. At the end of the three minutes, however, the audience erupted into spontaneous applause and cheering to match that of the film’s soundtrack. Their heads and hearts were indisputably back “on campus,” and they were freshly aware of an excitement rarely felt since adolescence. They also knew that they didn’t know what was coming next, and anticipation was heightened in the room.

It worked. (…this film can be viewed, here: Stanford “Think Again” films #1: Back to the Farm – YouTube )

The same theory worked in a far different way when launching a campaign at Harvard Law. Rather than bringing the audience into the Law Library for the Main Event the way they’d always entered this space…this space they had come to Harvard and discovered in awe, then learned to hate by the time of departure…we brought them up the emergency stairs and into darkened, architecturally-lit stacks from a position seldom experienced. One in which they entered and saw the beauty of the unobstructed rows of columns bisecting the room and the stacks from end-to-end, the long way.

Suddenly, these jaded lawyers were immersed in the beauty of the space and reminded of the reverence with which they had once held these thousands of tomes.

So, after and along with “what are they assuming,” comes “what are they expecting?” And, how might we work with that and Liberate said Preconception…?

Ain’t nothing wrong with a little slyness in the name of Compelling Experience…

Again, thanks for reading.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

Next week: Comfortable Disorientation

Exploration of Assumption

In my experience – probably in that of most all of us – Assumption can be found at the root of virtually all misunderstanding. The insidious thing about Assumption is that it is stealthy, pretty much ever-present and most often goes completely unidentified and unrecognized; thus calls for diligence.

It sounds and seems a simple and obvious maxim, yet the pervasiveness and profound effects can be easily missed until too late.

As with the network of roots that thrive, woven beneath forest and meadow, with the propensity to sprout anywhere and at any time; Assumption shows up, everywhere. Far more often than not, it can go unidentified while affecting nuance and substance or creative undertaking…holding us back from what is truly possible in the creation of something compelling.

From a simple difference between, for instance, the color of Blue envisioned by a Director when speaking of a set piece or lighting effect and the Blue that is heard by the Designer to whom he is speaking to greater, deeper and far more disparate differences that can grow from undetected Assumption; each and all of which can slow production, create unnecessary conflict between creatives, upset a producer (and we can’t have THAT!) contribute to cost overruns and – of the utmost importance – affect the resonance of the Experience that is ultimately created and produced.

Ergo: Exploration of Assumption is Number One on my own list of Tenets of Experience Creation.

Far from being a one-time practice or Moment in the course of development; This is, for me, a tool and practice appropriately and productively applied throughout any creative, collaborative process (and throughout Life, for that matter; but that’s for another forum…).

In the macro, this means beginning with such foci as:

  • What is the audience assuming when entering the theatre or space?
  • What am I assuming about that audience…and their assumptions, for that matter…?
  • How might I be limiting myself and the spectrum of explorable possibility?
  • What are other, subtle or blatant options in the writing / reading of this script…
  • What might be outrageous…and how might that not be so outrageous?
  • …of the possibilities inherent in a particular venue, theatre or space?

And here’s a thing to remember; sometimes that Assumption is there to be circumvented or overcome, and at other times it is ripe for leverage  of and enhancement to the Experience. Assumption isn’t bad, as long as it’s recognized. Unrecognized and unappreciated, it can undermine. Awareness of it is always of value.

Throughout any process, from concept development through pre- and production – even through the run of a show or experience – pulling out the “What am I assuming” tool, examining the product or show and examining my own, ongoing decision-making has seldom failed to offer an extra insight. Sometimes the smallest realization can be revelatory, and can change the tone of what is being created.

I believe this about covers it; makes the point I want to articulate. Exploration of Assumption is the ongoing, regular and just-this-side-of-habitual exploration of ALL possible assumptions. It’s simple, and it will serve you….imho.

Thanks for reading.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning 

Next week: Liberation of Preconception