3 ways to steal their attention

You’re speaking, but is anyone listening?
Let’s assume your audience is pre-occupied with 1,000 things. For example, weather.

“Oh no,” you may be thinking, “not another rant about snow.”

It’s not, although if you live in Boston, as my wife and I do, you’ve just endured a record-breaking, roof-busting winter. Tempted to flee the Northeast? “Why not try the Southwest?” you daydream. “After all, it’s the opposite.”

I’ve got one word for you, other than rattlesnakes. (There are 13 species in Arizona, by the way, which, according to my rough estimate, is 13 species too many.)

The word: haboob. It’s a dust storm, “a tsunami of sand,” sometimes 5,000 feet high and 50 miles wide, reports the New York Times (“Swirls of Dust and Drama,” 8/29/14).

Imagine that you work for the Arizona Department of Transportation; it’s your job to warn the public about haboobs and car safety.

The challenge: how to get heard.

I think that if you’re in a car, headed for a haboob, your best move, obviously, is to immediately return to Boston. But first, you’re advised to get off the road. Also, to turn off all your car lights; I don’t completely understand that part, but it’s probably because of all the snakes.

Here’s what the Arizona Transportation Dept. did—and what you can do too:

1) Focus. They developed a 4-word main message, including both a what-to-do (“PULL ASIDE”) and a why-you-might-want-to-consider-that (“STAY ALIVE”).

Question for you: What’s your main message, in 10 words or less?

2) Repeat, repeat, repeat. They ran the PULL ASIDE campaign for three years (and counting). Note: you can’t repeat your main message until you know what it is.


Question for you: How often, even in the same talk, do you repeat your main message?

3) Interact. They promoted a haiku contest, “the only contest to mix an ancient form of poetry with dust storm safety.”

Thousands responded.

Question for you: How do you interact with your audience? Inviting their questions is good, but expected. How about asking them some questions?

Tip: Your audience is easily distracted, that’s a given. Re-think your tactics.

p.s. Here’s a haiku, in summary. A haiku is 3 lines, 17 syllables (5 in the first line, then 7, then 5):

Don’t let them wander
When you are speaking, focus!
On 1 big thing. Snakes???

© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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