Your Attention Please

Your Attention Please

We have discovered three critical facts about today’s audience:

      1. People won’t pay attention to information just because it’s interesting.
      2. The most relevant communication is “all about me”-information that directly relates to audience members’ needs and wants.
      3. No matter how compelling (#1) or personally relevant (#2) your communication might be, your audience won’t pay attention if they have to work too hard.


“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates poverty of attention.” -Herbert Simon, the late Nobel laureate economist


Multitasking may seem like a sane approach to dealing with overload, but it’s a form of mania. It creates a sense that everything is being speedily and simultaneously accomplished, while the reality is that nothing is being done well or completely. Multitasking leaves people with the empty feeling of having nothing to show for their time.


“In our compulsive drive for more, we are making ourselves sick.” -Dr. Peter C. Whybrow


Service journalism goes beyond the delivery of pure information, it is action journalism. As such, it must include inspiration for the reader to want to do something, and then the editorial backup that equips the reader to actually go ahead and do it. Examples of good service magazines are: Men’s Health, Family Circle, Money, and Popular Mechanics.


What to do differently:

      • Focus on what your audience needs and wants to know. That means leaving your ego at the door.
      • Provide enough information to make your communication useful, but not so much that you overwhelm the audience.


Good Churchill quotes:

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”


“People only understand things in terms of their experience, which means that you must get within their experience.” -Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals


Know your audience by creating a profile of who you are reaching, even if that means creating a fictional character to portray that target audience.


What to do differently:

      • Get to know your audience-individually, not just as a group. Create a character sketch. Do focus groups. Read the written answers on marketing surveys.
      • Find out what your audience really cares about.
      • Accept your audience for who they are-warts and all-and communicate based on unconditional love.


“Keep it simple so that the audience can feel like they can do it, too. You have to play what the people will understand.” -Laurence Welk


“There’s an old saying in Hollywood: If you can’t describe your story in a sentence, there’s something wrong with the story.” -Rob Tobin


Create that “high concept.” The one-sentence slogan that sums up the whole.


3 steps to framing

      1. Decide on the desired outcome of your communication.

* “I want to inform our customers about our new return policy.”

* “I’d like to get funding approval for this project.”

      1. Once you know the outcome you want, link it to the audience’s need.

* “Customers told us our old return policy was confusing and felt unfair.”

* “This project will help my boss achieve an objective on his performance management plan (and help the company).”

      1. Create a message concept-in 10 to 25 words-that meets the audience’s need while achieving your objective.

* “How our new return policy will make your life easier.”

* “Proposed project supports important objectives.”


No one in your audience has the time or the patience to wade through a bunch of nonsense.


What to do differently:

      • Say it quickly, simply, and so that your audience members know what’s in it for them.
      • Don’t try to say too much or you may risk losing your audience’s attention.
      • Remember this phrase: “What is the one thing I need the audience to know or believe or do?”


Words are like snow. One is extraordinary, a moderate quantity is beautiful, but too much is simply a big white mess.


What to do differently:

      • Avoid abstractions and vague concepts.
      • Appeal to the senses by using specific descriptions to help your audience connect by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.
      • Don’t be afraid to make your communication just a little longer (if you absolutely must) to make it more tangible.


20 Master Plots

quest        metamorphosis

adventure    transformation

pursuit        maturation

rescue        love

escape        forbidden love

revenge    sacrifice

the riddle    discovery

rivalry        wretched excess

underdog    ascension

temptation    descension


What to do differently:

      • Use real or even fictional characters to jump-start your communication and draw in an audience.
      • Remember that your story needs to have a plot- something has to happen, or be poised to happen, otherwise your story is not a story.
      • Be aware of all the examples of story around you, and analyze what makes them so compelling: from the middle column of the Wall Street Journal’s front page, to video games, to advertising, there are great stories going on everywhere.


“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”-David Ogilvy


For our money, there are three type of headlines that work the best:

Make a promise. “Reduce your energy cost by 14%.”

Ask a Question. “How much would you spend for peace of mind?”

Tell “how to.” “How to get promoted” or “12 ways to talk to your teenager.”


What to do differently:

      • Make your communication easy to navigate, giving your audience control of the experience.
      • Don’t use long blocks of narrative text-it will seem to your audience like too much work and too much of a commitment.
      • Look at USA Today for inspiration; emulate the way the newspaper organizes content and makes it accessible.
      • Employ all 7 elements of navigation described in this chapter: contents, summary, inverted pyramid, headlines, subheads/breakheads, sidebars, and bullets.
      • Use checklists like this one.


When creating icons use these simple guidelines:

      • make sure they are clear.
      • Ensure that they’re without cultural bias.
      • Hire a designer.
      • Make it easy for people to learn what icons mean.


“We are becoming a visually mediated society. For many, understanding the world is being accomplished, not through reading words, but by reading images.” -Paul Martin Lester, Ph. D.


What to do differently:

      • Use visuals to convey your message at a glance.
      • Don’t use just pictures. Visuals include using different types of typography as well.
      • Keep it simple. The whole idea is to make it quick and easy for your audience to grasp what you’re trying to get across.
      • Express yourself in living color. Color has (often subconscious) emotional associations. It adds impact without extra words.
      • Be as brief as possible.
      • Help your audience understand the content. Make things simple. Explain and defiine what they might not instantly understand.
      • Be yourself. The audience doesn’t want an impersonal communication; they want to feel like they’re hearing from a living, breathing, imperfect human being.


“Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” -President Franklin D. Roosevelt on speech making.


What to do differently:

    • Provide your audience with how-to information that will help them do their jobs better or make their lives easier.
    • Use tips when the information you  want to convey is short, simple, and bite-sized.
    • Create  instructions when you need to be more specific about what people should do.
    • Write recipes when the greatest level of precision is required.