User Engagement: It’s all about the people!

It is the third of my 10-week mini sabbatical and it’s also Friday, which mean it’s blogging day. Returning from Seoul and jumping into a workshop on a topic related to work is a huge shift of mindset.

From an identity perspective, one mindset is messy, adventurous, social and hedonistic. Seoul was mostly about that, although I did turn to the other side of the spectrum toward the end of the trip. The other end is more practical, and I have developed an intimate relationship with it in the last few years. It is about order, caution, solitude, and self-restraint.

One of the goals I set for this period in the spirit of my orderly mindset was around levelling up my professional skills. I identified weaknesses in my ability to develop a strategy, so I chose to read some books on the topic, and hope to be able to apply the learnings when I am back to work.

Another gap has been my lack of hands-on work on the craft. In my role as the Head of Product in the last 1+ year I spent so much time dedicated to building the team, and to building relationships with stakeholders, that I was distancing myself from the product and the customer. That posed a huge risk because, how can you seriously guide a team if you do not keep the skills they need in use to at least a minimum?

In that spirit, I picked this workshop by Scott Gould on User Engagement, within the program of the World Usability Day Estonia.

Here’s what I got out of the workshop.

There was a lot to take as the material Scott delivered was built on the basis of science on how the human brain works, how our body reacts to stimuli, human psychology and relationships.

I confess it is extremely difficult to summarize it all in here without feeling tempted to check books, articles and even university programs to go deeper into the topic, but then I will not finish the post ever.

In short, what I understood was that engagement is a psychological state, and that means that to get someone engaged requires us to get their mental attention, then the involvement of their body (yes, even with digital products), and finally reaching their hearts by eliciting positive emotions.

We went through a lot of practical examples to help grasp the concepts, both of his model and from the theory from books like Thinking Fast and Slow, Influence, and many others which Scott referred to during his delivery.

One of my favourite parts was a practical exercise to illustrate what he defines at the three stages of engagement. In the exercise I volunteered to with another participant, Scott made us start a conversation. The idea was to imagine we were at a cafe and were getting to know each other. We started asking questions, and in one of those I reacted by increasing my tone of voice and leaning forward toward my interlocutor.

The first stage, when we were asking questions, is what he refers to as “Scatter”. In the case of a company or product, a way to scatter to catch the attention of your potential users, would be by placing ads campaigns, or putting a big neon sign outside your business premises, for example.

The second stage, “Gather” is about connecting around a common topic. That is when I reacted. I engaged my body when my conversation partner made a comment that I related to. If you looked at the equivalent with a digital product when using your smartphone, the moment something grabbed your attention, you’d probably grab it with both hands, and got the screen closer to your eyes in interest.

The final stage, which we didn’t get to during the conversational exercise, was “Matter”. This refers to turning the initial gathered element of connection into something more powerful and long-lasting. Had we continued with our exercise this would have meant starting a friendship where we share a hobby, or work on a project together. At least that is my own interpretation of the concept.

Another key takeaway for me was that “engagement always starts with a question”. The questions can be implicit or explicit. And because you do not know which ones will stick, you place many, like easter eggs but visibly.

We also touched on other topics although more briefly, like engaging teams, or examples of where companies have gone wrong. Like when they jump too quickly to call you “member of X community”, though you haven’t been asked to, or have not yet shown signs of interest that indicate you identify with it.

While I was struggling to find opportunities to apply the learnings in topics that I am focused on at the moment, I did manage to see a few correlations with what I left at work before starting the break.

More specifically, I could see how there were many parallels with the Change Management Framework developed by Prosci, which I learned about during an intense a 3-day training I did with them in September.

They call it the “ADKAR” model and each letter stands for a stage of the change management process, where the first A is for “Awareness” and it refers to first making people aware of what the change is. This I find is similar to “Scatter”, about getting people’s cognitive attention.

The second letter is about “Desire” to make the change, which I remember because it raised a lot the question of how important it is for people to start showing interest in change by understanding “what is in it for me?”. The equivalent for this in Scott’s model would be the Gathering stage, when a person reacts to the prompts or questions, because they find a topic of connection, or relatedness.

I didn’t go full blown into analyzing the parallels, but there were more.

So why is it all about the people? If it has not been made clear until now, my own inference of this sentence (which he kept written on one side of the room and printed on his shirt) is that engagement goes into the deepest of humans by getting a grip of mind, body and heart and the result is people connected and committed to one another.

All in all, the workshop was very engaging 🙂 and if it got you curious, too, you can learn more about it going directly to Scott’s site. As for me, I will keep the energy it gave me to continue exploring further into topics where I want to develop in the upcoming weeks.

Happy Friday,
Maria 🌺

Originally published at on November 22, 2019.



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Maria Lasprilla

Product Management, Personal Growth, Leadership. Living The Good Life.