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Getting people to pay attention
In a world where attention is in short supply and spread very thinly (e.g. Slack to email to Reddit to Whatsapp), you have to know how to cut through the noise. Being boring is riskier than ever for your career - people might not appreciate your impact and you may find it more difficult to get ahead.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do. Here are three of my favorite tips for getting people to pay attention.
1.) Use the right structure
The same chord progressions get used over and over again in hit music. Why? Because they intrinsically sound right - the music pulls us along and we crave hearing the entire progression. The last chord is like a satisfying resolution. Likewise, the same seven basic plots have been used over and over again since, well, the beginning of history.
Structure matters. The best structure I’ve ever seen for business communication is “WHY” - “WHAT” - “IMPACT”. Start with why it matters for your audience. Briefly explain what the issue is. Describe the impact or share a vision of what the impact could be. It’s like a sandwich with two giant pieces of bread (WHY + IMPACT) and a little filling in the middle (WHAT).
2.) Dial up people’s natural curiosity
Once you have a good foundation in place, you can add a few flourishes.
Harnessing people’s natural curiosity is your most powerful attention-grabbing tool. It works because our brains have evolved to be endlessly inquisitive. We’re constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. When presented with information gaps, we have a strong natural desire to resolve them - even when it’s about something inconsequential.
The sweet spot is giving people enough information to get them interested, but not enough to feel like they’ve satisfied their curiosity. Questions, either direct or implied, work great here - as does dropping people right in the middle of the action without much context. Consider the first line of 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
3.) Tell a story within your bigger story
If you structure what you’re saying well, it will feel like a story pulling your audience toward the natural conclusion. But you can also add in tiny stories at any point to boost attention. Anytime you want to describe something (“telling” your audience), you can use a tiny story instead. It will achieve more resonance and keep your audience interested (“showing”). This works because stories trigger an emotional response, making them easier to remember.
You might never be as addictive as TikTok, but using these simple tips will vastly increase the quality of your messaging and your ability to cut through.
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Thanks for reading.