It takes more than a clever title and a tagline to connect with people. That’s just one of the messages from Sam Horn’s book Got Your Attention?. The chapters are short, just like the goldfish-sized attention span that Horn says we all have today. She’s not the only one. In Fascinate, Sally Hogshead sets the same expectation. Whether we’re literally as distractible as a goldfish, or it just seems that way, getting people’s attention is hard. In Got Your Attention?, Horn teaches you how to get – and keep – people’s attention.
In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle explains how technology has simultaneously increased our connection to one another and moved us farther apart. We can share screens and web cams with people on the other side of the planet – yet fewer and fewer people feel like they’ve got someone with whom they can share an intimate conversation. Horn quotes Stephen Marche: “We suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another.”
This leaves us all with a longing for connection – a connection that we crave ourselves and that we can offer to others. In offering connection to others, we can get their attention.
Connection comes when people are interested in each other, and the headwaters of interest start at intrigue. When we encounter something interesting, our reticular activating system (RAS) focuses our attention, so that we can move closer and find out more. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)
For some, they believe they don’t have anything interesting to say. For others, they can’t wait for the other person to stop talking, so they can start talking about themselves more. Neither end of the self-confidence spectrum serves us well when it comes to having a dialogue with the other person.
We know that our first step is to create intrigue, to get folks to want to know what we know – and we should simultaneously cultivate a sense of intrigue for what they do. However, it’s important to keep our end goals in mind. We want more than just an opportunity to sell or a chance at some funding we need. Our goal is connection. Whether we can help the other person in their business goals or not, can we find a way to connect with them?
The initial spark of interest comes from intrigue, and the result of interest is dialogue. Dialogue isn’t just communication. It’s not a barrage of words we inflict upon each other. Dialogue is the road on which we travel when we’re looking for the opportunity to connect with others. It’s a special and difficult form of communication that requires both parties be vulnerable with their whole self and who they are.
The ability to have a dialogue requires a degree of self-confidence. (For more on dialogue, see Dialogue.)
While Horn’s advice addresses the tactical issues surrounding getting people’s attention and how to maintain it, there’s a normal range that it works in – and sometimes people are outside of that range. I was reminded of an old chemistry class comment that chemical reactions often only happen inside of a pH range. As a result, you can put two chemicals together that should normally react violently, but if the pH is wrong, nothing happens.
The same is true of Horn’s advice. She recounts a story of an aspiring author whose meeting with a publisher goes horribly wrong, and the author doesn’t attempt to pitch her idea to anyone else – even when there were opportunities available to her. Her self-confidence and self-esteem were so crushed that she couldn’t continue to put herself out there in ways that someone else might be intrigued by. Despite this, other than a brusque comment that you must keep going, there’s little advice for how to build and maintain your self-esteem.
Before you can take advantage of Horn’s advice about the tactics you can use to increase your performance, you’ve got to find your courage. That is, you must find enough self-confidence to be able to step up to the plate and take a swing. One way to start that journey is to look to the advice of Find Your Courage.
If you were taught sales at any point in your world, it’s likely that someone taught you to perfect your elevator pitch. The idea was that, if you were in an elevator and someone asked you what you do, you have 30 seconds until one of you is going to get off the elevator. How do you express what you do in 30 seconds? If you were good, you were taught to say that you do A, B, and C, then end with the question about whether they know about those things or need them. The idea is to throw out three lines for potential connection and allow them to pick up one of them.
Horn’s approach is different. Instead of explaining three things you do – or three problems you solve – the idea is that you ask them three “did you know” questions. The point is to find something that is intriguing to the audience. It needs to be intriguing enough to want to know more. From there, Horn recommends transitioning to a set of “wouldn’t you like…” statements and finally close with the fact that you’ve already created that solution – so they don’t have to imagine.
This illustrates a difference in perspective. The elevator pitch isn’t really a pitch. It’s a summary and an open invitation for the other person to engage. Horn’s approach is what you would do from a platform, when you’re speaking to a group and you want to draw them into your line of thinking. Because this opening is so important, let’s look at it in more detail.
Did You Know?
Did you know that web articles can be read in about one minute? The average person reads somewhere between 450 and 600 words per minute, and most web articles now are only 600 words. Did you know that reading is 3 to 4 times quicker than listening? Most people speak at the rate of only 150 words per minute compared to the reading rate of between 450 to 600 words.
While you don’t know exactly where I’m going with these questions, didn’t it get your attention? “Did you know” engages your brain to test what is being said. “Did you know” can lead you to discovering the scope of a problem that you didn’t even know about. Did you know that roughly 100,000 people die each year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the US alone? That’s true – and now you have a sense for the scale of the problem.
“Did you know” can also provide a different perspective. Did you know that only 50% of the high-risk objects in a hospital room are cleaned during a standard “terminal” (between patients) room cleaning? Did this question move you to expect that the hospital room you’re entering is clean or dirty?
“Did you know” can also expose previously unconsidered possibilities. Did you know that you can reduce healthcare-associated infections by helping employees escape burnout? Most people wouldn’t directly make the link between provider burnout and patient outcomes – but the research says that there is a direct causal relationship. Most folks wouldn’t have considered working on employee mental health to improve outcomes, but that new possibility may be more effective than the standard training.
Wouldn’t You Like?
Imagine what it would be like for your audience to start leaning in and asking for more information. Imagine what it would be like to have a line of people waiting to speak with you after your presentation. This strategy of “Wouldn’t you like”-type questions and “imagine” statements decouples the possibility of the solution from the presentation of the solution.
The traditional strategy of telling someone that you can do something is met with initial resistance. Our initial reaction is to find ways that this can’t be possible. By using the keyword “imagine” or phrase “Wouldn’t you like,” you remove the constraint of whether it’s possible or not. This, coupled with a concrete vision, can be a powerful way to help to drive to your solution.
The closing is to indicate that the solution they’re dreaming of isn’t a dream after all – it’s something you can do. It’s something that has been done and is real. After making it clear that it’s real, you simply need to apply credibility markers, so they know your claim of the solution is something they can trust in.
If you’ve ever watched infomercials at 3 in the morning, you’ve heard phrases that get stuck in your head. Ronco will forever be remembered for “Set it and forget it.” You may remember Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign or Calgon’s 1970s-era “Ancient Chinese Secret” campaign. These phrases got stuck somewhere in our consciousness.
Certainly, some degree of this is just the sheer number of times that we heard them due to marketing budgets behind these key phrases. However, there’s a bit more to it than just that. Horn recommends these tips:
- Distill: Condense your call to action into eight words or less.
- Rhythm: Put your words into a beat so they’re easy to repeat.
- Alliteration: Use words that start with the same sound.
- Rhyme: Use rhyme if you want to be remembered over time.
- Pause and punch: Deliver your phrase-that-pays with distinctive inflection.
Undivided or Undevoted Attention
Horn admits that she doesn’t always garner the undivided attention of her children all the time. Most parents recognize that they sometimes get the undevoted attention from their children as they focus on their phones, a show, or a game.
The question becomes how you can convert the undevoted attention of your audience into undivided attention. In the service of the goal of getting people’s undivided attention to your message, you may want to see if Horn Got Your Attention? in her book.