Retail Observer

January 2021

The Retail Observer is an industry leading magazine for INDEPENDENT RETAILERS in Major Appliances, Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings

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RETAILOBSERVER.COM JANUARY 2021 48 A ll happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." You don't need to be a lover of Tolstoy to admire that first line of Anna Karenina. It's an opening that invites you to read on. True, the novel clocks in at more than 500 pages. But Tolstoy, like most great authors, understood that his first words were arguably the most important. Nearly 150 years later, this principle remains even more relevant for anyone looking to grab another person's attention. Whether it's for a live audience, a casual website visitor, a job application, a customer call, or a prospective date, what you deliver in the opening moments will likely have a great impact on your success or failure. THE GOLDFISH ARE WINNING Microsoft Canada did some research a few years back to measure the attention span of the modern consumer. They made a splash with a headline that announced the average human attention span had fallen to eight seconds – lower than the nine-second span of a standard goldfish. One can quibble over what constitutes "attention" in a goldfish, but there's no doubt that it's getting harder to hold people's attention. The culprit is, of course, the world we're living in. Since the start of the millennium, our attention spans have declined four seconds, according to Microsoft's research. The factors cited for the drop include technology adoption, increased media consumption (especially social media), and multi-screen usage. Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, foresaw the problem at the dawn of the Internet age, noting in 1995 that, "Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." Thus today there are few commodities more precious than another person's undivided attention. If you're giving a presentation, you have only a handful of words – fewer than in this sentence – to grab attention enough to make people care what you say next. If you're crafting a website or some other written content, the research suggests you have just 10 seconds before 19% of the audience defects, with most others quickly following. To command the right kind of attention, you need to focus your greatest creative energies on the very first seconds of the experience you deliver. THE ELEMENTS OF ENGAGEMENT A strong opening is provocative. It captures attention by confounding an expectation or simply standing alone in its boldness and color. It materializes a full story arc in an instant, inciting challenges – and a demand for more information. Critically, it speaks to what you know really matters to your audience – their dispositions, their fears and delights, and their hot buttons and triggers. People who run newsrooms know this – in journalism the headline and the lead are everything. When I worked as a newspaper reporter, we called this the "Hey, Mabel!" effect – knowing that our stories were competing on newsstands and we needed to stop the busy shopper in her tracks with something that demanded to be explored. In the online and social media worlds, the irresistible opening is arguably even more important. Many a clickbait advertising dollar has been made on a line such as, "This Is Why You Shouldn't Try to Outrun a Bear." An effective way to open well is to say or do something unexpected, even uncomfortable. You're looking to contravene people's expectations of what you might be (boringly) planning to say. Mostly you're looking to provoke the need to follow up. Paul Zak, a California-based researcher and pioneer in the neuroscience of persuasion, works with Hollywood studios to test the effectiveness of movie trailers in drawing audiences. "Effective trailers create a high tension and hold it," Zak told me. "They introduce characters, they build a crisis…and then they don't resolve the tension. So, for the viewer the question is: How do I get rid of that tension? And of course, the answer is to go and watch the movie." You may not be burdened with having to bring in $10 million for an opening weekend. But understanding and applying the dynamics of storytelling to your next creative challenge could save you from losing the opportunity just as it's getting started. YOU HAVE ONLY A SMALL MOMENT TO MAKE A BIG IMPACT Mario Juarez Business Mindset RO Mario Juarez is an organizational consultant, coach, and motivational speaker. He focuses on helping organizations and individuals achieve better business results through strategic storytelling. An award-winning former journalist, Mario led a series of innovative communications initiatives at Microsoft before founding his company, StoryCo, which serves clients across a range of industries. "

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