That was not a headline you were expecting, was it? Did it grab your attention?
Of course it did. Because it was odd, surprising…and unexpected. (*see caveat below about cheap parlor tricks, however!)
In a prior post (Every Brain Will Tell You: Get To The Point) I mentioned that the brain’s Gatekeeper of Attention is something called the Reticular Activating System. The RAS is our filtering mechanism, which allows us to focus on what matters.
And what matters to the RAS? One of those things is the unexpected – something that stands out from the background (this is rooted in the more primitive survival instincts in the brain). If there’s a saber-toothed tiger outside the cave one morning…hey, that’s worth paying attention to!
The RAS if filtering out thousands of sensory impressions per minute, weeding out the noise in order to find the signal. Our brains are looking for things that are new, interesting, relevant, and specific. And unexpected.
Everything else without a clear WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) is filtered out as noise. Maybe including a lot of what you and I have to say (even if it’s important).
Why does this matter? Because if your job is to communicate, the primary challenge you face is making the first few seconds of your message highly relevant and interesting and attention-worthy. You need to learn the skill of becoming RAS-friendly. One of those tools is using the power of the unexpected.
Here’s an example. Why was the Bernie-in-mittens meme such a huge hit after the latest presidential inauguration?
Well, first of all, because Bernie Sander’s fashion choices and appearance at the ceremony were so strangely unexpected. But then, when people transplanted Bernie images into all sorts of other settings, it grabbed attention because it continued to be about the strange and unexpected!
There are many, many ways to apply this principle in our professional lives: in the way we open a training class, in the way we grab attention in a marketing campaign – even in the way we write creative subject lines for emails (or blog posts). In my Clarity Formula workshops, I teach clients how to create RAS-friendly communications that earn attention and create engagement. What skill could be more important for any individual or team?
Steve Woodruff conducts virtual and live workshops and offers on-line resources for learning how to apply the Clarity Formula to your professional life. Contact Steve here.
* So this post uses a cheap parlor trick – satire – to gain attention. Obviously, you can’t use tricks and manipulation as your main way of gaining attention in most professional settings. So you have to take something real and relevant and put a twist on it. For instance, I encourage people to do something counter-intuitive and unexpected: Ditch the Elevator Pitch – for something I think is more effective (what I call a Memory Dart). And I’ll often start a workshop with an oddball (but relevant) story that grabs the attention and creates a memorable point. Make sense?