We’ve all witnessed those moments when someone does something truly remarkable.

What emerges in the immediate aftermath of one of those moments is what I call the Collective Intake of Breath.

They’re easier to spot in the world of entertainment I think. In soccer, there is a moment like the Cruyff turn, showcased in the 1974 World Cup. For a brief instant, the entire audience is captivated and taken aback by the sheer artistry. It simultaneously draws breath as if it were one giant multi-headed beast.

Two of these personal moments come to me first, though they occur – thankfully – regularly enough in a lifetime to keep us interested. One was seeing Michael Jackson in concert, in front of an estimated audience of 130,000, do his moonwalk thing – but sideways. I kid you not. It was mesmerising, and for a split second, you could hear nothing.

Another was a decade before when I was at the world table tennis championships, watching a match between an attacking Japanese player and a defensive Chinese player. The defensive player was pinned to the back of the court when another Japanese salvo flashed to his extreme left. In an instant, needing the extra distance to reach across his body to play the right-handed backhand, he turned his back on the table and ball, and flicked his outstretched wrist in a slicing motion. The ball flew off his racket, a centimetre over the net and he was back in the rally. It was probably the finest shot I’d ever seen, and I would have seen a million shots at that point. Same collective intake of breath.

So when we’re producing work, perhaps we should aim for something so remarkable that we cause in our audience a collective intake of breath? Not by offending or shocking them, but by amazing and astonishing them.

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