Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surviving a Conference Part II: Examples of Building Anticipation

(Please read Part I and Prerequisites I and II for background information.)

As previously mentioned, conferences build up a sense of anticipation and hope concerning our desires, and when we attend them, we attend quite willingly and participate in the process. Generally the conference hosts communicate the general organization of activities as a basic description of not only what can be anticipated about the conference, but also what general behavior is expected of the attendee.

Usually, those who attend are given some handouts and trinkets, and common items usually include a durable tote or portfolio of some type that can be used after the conference. Pens and note pads are often common items that are given out, displaying the logo of the group. These are a nice enhancement and an early gift of earnest that reciprocates the investment paid by the attendee for the conference experience. These are reasonable things to do and expect, but it does reinforce the sense of trust that one has in the value of the conference. It plays upon our expectation of reciprocity, one of Cialdini’s “weapons of social influence.”

Building of Expectation and Anticipation

At the True Woman '08 Conference, in the opening plenary session, John Piper stated something that added to the expectation to the already willing and committed conference attendees. He stated that women would be so moved and their lives would be so changed so that when the conference concluded on Saturday, many women would find themselves reluctant to leave the wonderful conference atmosphere. He effectively suggested that the conference would be so powerful that some women would prefer to say at the conference rather than return home to their families – quite a profound comparison because of the other expectations that these women are also taught to submit to and serve their families.

I also found it very interesting that this statement was accompanied by what I thought was an overt show of emotion, over and above the already overtly emotional style that characterized the rest of the message. I’m told by those who attended the conference and have read online that women were most moved by the “heartfelt” contrition and deep concern that Piper showed during this sermon, so I find this to be very significant. I believe by making this statement and stating it in the manner he did impressed the audience with this standard, that of expecting a very powerful experience at the conference, in a powerful manner.

Derren Brown often introduces suggestions like this to lead whole audiences of people to make choices that seem to be completely spontaneous. He will then set up a series of suggestions, all that seem completely spontaneous, throughout the evening of seemingly benign entertainment. At the conclusion of this session, he chooses a random people out of the audience and then “predicts” what that person will choose from among a seemingly large number of nearly limitless choices. It turns out that he has actually subtly and subliminally guided everyone in the audience to chose one single option of his own preference.

 In the preceding video clips that you can pull up yourselves, a woman is asked to choose one random word from over a possible 16,000 words. (I will not display the preceding clips here because of a foul expletive in the preceding clip, but you are welcome to view them on your own.) In this clip however, you can watch how Brown went to great effort to convey his own choice all throughout the evening theater show to the entire audience through subtle suggestion. Here is his explanation of how he subtly influenced the whole audience to select what is nearly an impossible choice, one that he describes as inevitable.


I am not suggesting that John Piper intentionally wove subliminal messages into his sermon, but I hope to demonstrate that his very open and emotive description of a standard encouraged women at the True Woman Conference to anticipate a deep and moving experience that would rival or exceed their desire to return home to their beloved families. I’m not even inclined that this was done with premeditated intent, but I think after years of experience, a pastor like John Piper has learned a few things. In a previous post I pointed out that manipulative individuals choose very dysfunctional behavior, not because it is right but because it is effective. It works.

I think that a man like John Piper has learned very well exactly what works to influence crowds to achieve a desired outcome. I heard other comments from various people on Friday throughout the day of the conference, and this is difficult for me to say because I have done this very same thing and believed these kind of statements by faith in the past (in Word of Faith). This was also far more subtle than Piper’s suggestion, but I did make serious note of several statements that these speakers made very clearly.

Several women speakers talked about how the music was better on Friday than it had been the day before because women’s hearts were more open. The music was better because worship was more intimate on the second day due to the change in dispositions of the women’s hearts. There were also overtures made to the conclusion of the conference as if this wonderful intimacy and sense of blessing would continue to build and would culminate in a peak experience at the end (with the signing of the manifesto). In other words, "The longer that the conference goes on, the better and better it gets."

It was presented as objective evidence that participation in the conference enhanced one’s intimacy with God. I don't doubt that for some that it was genuine or that it was the genuine experience of the conference's effect on the speakers, but I did note this as a statement that would naturally promote anticipation. It was odd because when one of these statements was made, I found the opposite to be true of the music. I wept during the Thursday night session via live webcast, worshiping with the music and song, but I actually struggled through the worship on the second night for several reasons related to my training in the music regarding the principles of leading worship. I was moved by the testimonies and became teary-eyed watching and listening to them, as is my typical response because there is little else as moving to me as a personal testimony. (So it wasn’t as if I’d turned hard-hearted that evening.)

 I believe that these kinds of statements definitely build anticipation in those who attend conferences of this type. Whether speakers make these powerful and subtle suggestions and standards purposefully, only they can say, but I believe that those experienced in conducting meetings like this have learned what works and what yields very positive results.

 Check back for an upcoming post about other factors that challenge the critical thinking of those who attend any kind of conference using the recent True Woman Conference as an example. . ,