Why I’m not listening to you.

May 25, 2021

The case for triggering, navigation and visual language in everything from websites and blogs to presentations and Podcasts.

You’re on word four of this post and you’re already so bored that you’ve tuned out entirely.

I’m not surprised, and you shouldn’t be either.

The wall of words that gets shoved at us every day is a glut of information. There’s simply so much of it, and it’s designed in a way that causes you to disengage.

To be honest, you’re skimming, skipping and scanning through just about every piece of content you consume, whether that’s “reading” this or “watching” the hockey game as you second screen Instagram on your phone.

We can rail against that like grumpy people shouting for the kids to get off the lawn, or we can realize a primary reason for the issue is that we’re depending on words alone as a way to captivate, engage and activate our audiences.

That’s a mistake. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve looked more deeply at neuroscience and behavioural economics, and have come to realize that simply writing down stuff you want to relate to your audience doesn’t cut it.

If you’re serious about building pitches that win, creating social content that snags comments or creating PowerPoint that doesn’t make your audience enraged, you’ve got to get past the words alone. Instead, you need to think about the strategies that actually activate your audience.

Here are three of my favourites…

Triggering – Build in more coathooks for the mind.
“Triggering” gets a bad rap because of the negative association it can have with your emotions. But it’s an important associative tool that helps your audience recall things that are essential in your communications and content. Find ways to positively trigger your audience using language, visuals, structure, repetition and more.

Crackerjack-good Tool
Use storytelling as a way to get someone to remember (and do something about your primary message.

Navigation – Create anticipation.
Audiences probably don’t know how to consume your content for maximum effectiveness. Instead, you blurt out a conversation without telling the audience where you’re going. Think how you can position navigational cues as a way to get your audience further invested into your communication.

Crackerjack-good Tool
Learn to love the subheadline. See how I’ve used two types here – one in bold, one in italics? This makes it easy for you to digest paragraphs as bite-sized elements and look for what’s most important and useful for you. Best of all, you can useverbal headlines in your talks and pitches as a way to reinforce context. 

Visual language – Handcuffing the eye to your story.
I don’t use colons or semi colons in my writing anymore – I use en and em dashes. The reason is that as your audience is scanning through the page, they won’t catch those important punctuation marks.

But they will catch dashes, elipses and subheads and white space (like this paragraph).

Crackerjack-good Tool
Start thinking about your communication as an opportunity to use visual elements. That includes the words themselves. Why you an average word like “change” when you can use winner like “jostle.” That second word gets more attention than you’d imagine. Just don’t empty the thesauraus onto the page. Use it sparingly as a way to gain attention.

Oh, there’s more – so so much more.
Hyper empathy. Priming. Reptation. Plus about 40 more devices. There’s a whole world of ways to get your audience interested in what you want to say, and they extend well beyond the words you use.

Get more eyeballs, keep more minds. Think about what’s going on in the brain as a way to make your next thing stand out.

- Jason