Last week I attended a fantastic conference about 'the science of engaging audiences' and one of the speakers was Ben Parr, who became the co-director of 'Mashable.com' at the age of 24. Whether it be staff, customers or peers it seems there is a science to how we shape our communication to capture people's attention - incredibly important for social entrepreneurs - and in this article I share some of the key findings....
Ben Parr is an incredibly engaging speaker. His energy, wit and quick thinking make his session exciting, thought-provoking and informative. - and that's the point. Parr believes that capturing attention is a science and that we can all learn how to engage our audiences effectively.
Using the metaphor of a bonfire Parr explains that attention is like a bonfire. The spark is the first stage of attention and defines our immediate sensory response to an event, the kindling our short term response when we decide whether we are a fan of something and the fire is the final stage where we have decided we are a fan and our attention is captured.
'Captivology' therefore, is how we trigger captivation and for Parr there are seven key ways of doing this, each linked to different stages of attention.
Automaticity relates to our subconscious associations and is linked to short-term attention. For example, if we want to evoke a feeling of romance we might wear red. Interestingly Parr states that research has shown that buying a customer coffee makes it more likely that you will close a deal as the warmth of the drink triggers a feeling of comfort and security.
Framing is concerned with adapting your audience's frame of reference in order to get them to buy in to what you are saying. He talks about the first deodorant brand which repeatedly failed to sell its products because of the way it framed the product. When it started to play on female insecurities with advert headlines such as 'The most humiliating moment in my life: When I overheard the cause of my unpopularity amongst men', although it jarred with Victorian sensibilities, sales soared!
Disruption, Parr says, it the most powerful attention trigger as we pay attention to people who violate our expectations of our world. This is a short term attention tool and can be exemplified by Samsung's Safety Truck campaign when trucks in the US had giant television screens on the back of them showing drivers the traffic that lay ahead. The bizarreness effect of the campaign got lots of press and attention for the brand. Parr notes that any disruption must have simplicity, surprise and significance and always fall in line with the brand.
Parr goes on to talk about the importance of Reward in capturing audiences - especially staff/team members. Dopamine creates a desire for 'pleasure wanting' and therefore rewards trigger opioids making us feel good. Rewards, Parr states can be incentives, post-action rewards, collections, gifts, lottery-related or random and each can evoke feelings of self-satisfaction , often making individuals work harder due to being recognised. Parr does note that the rewards need to be relevant and memorable referring to an event where he was given a bottle of whisky with his name on!
Reputation is related to trust and central to long-term attention. He states that trust surveys find that we trust those who are 'experts' in their field. Indeed an experiment found that when individuals were listening to financial advisors the decision-making centres of their brains shut down as they felt that they could completely trust their opinions. People wearing doctors coats also commanded more attention that people wearing a normal coat because of our associations with their reputation.
Mystery relates to the 'uncertainty reduction principle', basically our human need to complete. It is a great way of capturing audience attention as we need to complete our thoughts. An experiment with a group of children found that they were more likely to remember the pictures of puzzles that they had only half completed compared to those they had finished.
Finally, Acknowledgment for Parr, is central to capturing long-term attention. Basically, we pay attention to those who pay attention to us. Our intrinsic need for validation means that we pay attention to those who show an interest in us. We also more easily connect to those who mirror us in some way. This is exemplified in today's celeb culture, research shows that we care more about the celebrities who reflect us in some way and can feel connections through these one-way 'para-social' relationships.
Parr, B, (2015) Captivology: The SCIENCE of capturing people's attention. HarperOne Kindle Edition
A lot of what Parr said made so much sense and certainly made me evaluate my practice. Hope this made interesting reading for you too!
For more information on Captivology you can...
- buy the book
- follow Ben on Twitter -
- have a look at his website - http://www.captivology.com/
There are also some great clips on YouTube!