I remember – vividly – seeing a TV ad a few years ago. It was of a Volkswagen Campervan driving along a country road in the early morning. A nice peaceful soundtrack took me back to gentle family holidays.
The van seems to veer a little, now and then.
We see a dump truck coming towards it.
Just as it’s about to pass – BANG! The van slams into the truck. Dreadful mess. Shocking. See the ad for yourself, here: Kombi Night Shift Ad
[Image source: YouTube.com]
The ad was one of the first to tackle issues of fatigue and driving. The writers could have put up some frightening statistics: ‘35% of crashes in rural areas are caused by sleep debt’. But we kind of know that. If not the percentage, then the effect.
Once you have your reader’s attention (through a simple, clear, new thought), you need to keep that attention.
Break the pattern. Do the unexpected. Like this maths teacher did.
Seth Godin, prolific marketing author and speaker, agrees.
It’s a critical key to persuasive writing. Oh, wait! I’m running some sessions on influential writing in Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast with Business Chicks. These events sold out in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne last year. Jump in!
Now, back to your program:
There’s a famous story about Subway, and a hugely successful ad campaign they developed. They used the story of a man, Jared Fogle, who lost 111 kg by eating Subway sandwiches – eating fast food, no less!
Find an element of surprise, use it to grab attention, and then point out a gap in your reader’s knowledge.
You’ll get to a surprise by really knowing what you’re writing about.
Here are simple ways to capture your reader’s (or listener’s) attention through the unexpected, and make your ideas stick:
1. To make ideas stick, bring numbers to life
The Airbus A380 Super Jumbo has a wingspan of 79.8 metres.
So what? That doesn’t mean anything. Try instead saying ‘A wingspan almost as long as a football field’.
[Image source: ldsseminary.wordpress.com]
See the difference? We find it hard to picture 79.8 metres, but we can all picture – and imagine the impressive size – of a football field.
Rather than a piece of equipment or project costing $100,000, it can be ‘just 2% of our capital outlay last year’.
Find a way to bring numbers to life. Just ‘the cost of a cup of takeaway coffee a day’, for example. This will help give an unexpected perspective on figures that can appear dry and dull.
2. Don’t mind the gap, FIND it
Open gaps in people’s knowledge. Gaps they didn’t even know (unexpectedly) that they had.
Before you can make your ideas stick, your audience has to want them.
Think of how TV news programs do it. They might announce that a ‘new drug is sweeping the teenage community’. And then say ‘The drug may be in your medicine cabinet right now! More after the break…’
It leaves the viewer wanting more.
[Image source: CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License]
I like the story of Rebecca Fuller, a founder of an organisation devoted to creating tactile museum exhibits. She once started a presentation to a group of museum directors by suddenly turning all the lights off. As they sat in the dark, she said ‘this is what it’s like to be a blind person in most museums. Nothing to learn, nothing to experience.’
She had her audience. She’d focussed them on a problem they didn’t know existed. Now, they wanted to know how to solve it.
3. Tease, don’t tell
Your reader expects a presentation, for example, to be a series of bullet points. Each logical, and spelling out what you want to communicate.
Instead, why not try a series of questions to get the audience thinking for themselves? That’s unexpected. How about asking, ‘What will happen if we don’t follow the new employment guidelines?’ Or, ‘How much is reasonable for us to go over budget: a) $10,000 b) $20,000 c) $50,000?’
When applying for a new position, try not to do what everyone else does: ‘What I’ll bring to the role’. How about asking them what will happen if they don’t employ you? What will be the unexpected repercussions?
When the reader thinks for themselves, it’s far more powerful.
In a world where we are inundated with messages, writing the ‘expected’ will simply turn your audience away.
What can you do to surprise with:
- the way you present?
- the questions you ask?
- how you package up facts and figures?
Think unexpected, and you’ll get, and keep, their attention for longer.
Paul and the Magneto Team