Attention in a distracted world
Think back to your school days.
Remember how your teacher would set a 2,000-word essay?
In the real world, you have five seconds (if you’re lucky) to grab someone’s attention before they move on.
Getting people’s attention has never been easy, but social media has made it a nightmare.
Restless thumb syndrome
Today, people’s phones offer them a cornucopia of dopamine-fuelled distractions.
So how do you overcome it?
For many, the solution has been some combination of clickbait, pandering, and fear-mongering.
Making sure yours is the loudest voice in the room.
It’s exhausting for readers and erodes long-term trust.
What’s more, people gawking at you doesn’t necessarily mean people are paying attention to you.
So how do you find the middle ground between gaining and maintaining someone’s attention?
Brevity is key.
Writing (or any other method of communication) is a transaction between two parties: You supply content and, in return, the reader gives you their precious time and attention.
In the (often laborious) process of crafting communication, most people forget this.
Respect your readers’ time as much as you value your own content.
This builds trust, and trust makes people want to pay more attention to you.
Sure, it’s pretty tough to tell what will stand up to the test of time and what won’t (we’re looking at you scene kids) but try to avoid content that has a clear shelf life.
If nothing else, it stops you from commenting on things even when you have nothing to say.
Tell a good story.
Close your eyes and sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ to yourself.
Unless you’ve got a small child, it’s probably a long time since you last heard that rhyme but you probably sang all the words with no problem.
Now tell me about the structure of a cell.*
There’s a reason for this.
Stories stick with people in a way that a data dump never can.
In his book The Secrets of Story, author Matt Bird writes:
“Beginners believe their ideas are valuable, and will protect them with secrecy and copyright symbols on the title page. Professionals know that ideas are a dime a dozen and nobody wants to steal them. It’s only the unique expression of an idea that’s valuable. Ideas are ephemeral and the only marketable skill is good writing.”
Introduce new topics via something readers already know.
Our brains are full of sh*t (some useful, some useless), which makes entirely new information pretty tough to comprehend.
It’s far simpler to ask them to use what they already know to understand a new concept.
A wonderful example of the power of communicating through analogies is this video of physicist Richard Feynman describing the physics and chemistry of fire by presenting a tale about bowling balls on a trampoline.
Writing in clear, comprehensible language doesn’t mean dumbing it down though.
Stephen Hawking once said of his bestselling physics books: “Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales.”
Probably not wrong.
You can use content in one of three ways: to inform, to express an opinion, or to alter perspectives.
The first is fiercely competitive.
The second leads you down the road of pandering.
The third is the goldilocks option.
Not only will it help you capture people’s attention. It’ll help you hold it.
*Cell membrane, cytoplasm, nucleus, ribosome, mitochondrion. You’re welcome.
If you’re confused about all these new marketing frontiers, you’re not alone.
We’re pretty biased but when it comes to creative thinking, we reckon we know a thing or two. If you want a coffee and a natter, drop us an email.