May I Have Your Attention?

I was invited to sit on a panel last week, as part of a morning business program on the subject of Relationship Marketing. It was a three-hour session, during which time I sat up at the front table, awaiting my turn to speak. I had an unusual vantage point — directly facing the audience — and during the course of the morning, I mostly just sat there watching the crowd.

By lunchtime, I had come to one conclusion: It’s hard to hold anybody’s attention for very long. Over the course of the morning, I saw people chatting with neighbors; reading newspapers; leaving the room; talking on cell phones; staring at the ceiling; and yes, even nodding off momentarily. And that was just among the four of us at the head table. Ha ha! No, I am of course just kidding. The people who were doing all these things were in the audience.

On the one hand, it’s kind of surprising. Here you’ve got people who have consciously and freely paid $50 to attend; taken time away from work that directly produces revenue; and driven to a hotel in the freezing cold;and yet they are still having trouble focusing on what’s happening directly in front of them.

On the other hand (sorry, watching all those presidential debates has got me in a waffling mood), it’s just the way things seem to work. Although these people may truly have been interested in the topic when they registered, when the day of the event arrives, they’ve got lots of other things on their minds that get in the way of staying focused.

It’s the same with your newsletter. People sign up for a reason, but in practice, that reason has a lot of competition when your email arrives in their mailbox each month.

With that in mind I offer a few suggestions from the world of public speaking for keeping the attention of your listeners (readers).

• Tell stories. Any time I give a talk to a group — no matter how large or small — I always begin with an anecdote. People seem to be naturally attracted to stories, and the less initially obvious the connection between the story and the topic at hand, the more you’ll keep their attention, as they hang on waiting for you to close the loop.

• Don’t move around so much. One of the hardest things to do as a speaker is to stand in one place; it feels unnatural. When you wander around the room however, people get caught up in the motion and are likely to miss the content. By the same token, if your newsletter wanders around, your readers can get lost and are much more likely to just bail out midstream. Stay with one idea from start to finish.

• Have a strong ending. Many speakers end their presentations with a weak, “Well, that’s about all I’ve got,” as if the gas gauge on their content fuel tank had suddenly come up empty. This is a missed opportunity. The ending is your chance to drive the main point home, and by making sure your final few sentences are powerful, your audience will come away feeling energized, rather than relieved.

Well, I guess that’s about it for this issue . . . I hope you thought it was OK . . bye.

OK, here’s the real ending:

In today’s busy world, getting and keeping the attention of your readers is the biggest challenge you face in publishing a newsletter. If you can hold onto that, your readers will happily remember you, tell others about you, and seek you out when they are ready to buy whatever it is that you’ve got to sell. If you can’t, they’ll happily hit the delete key.

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