I went to Disney World with my nephews in the late 90s and we were getting frustrated when we raised our hands to be picked by the Disney staff to be part of a particular performance and were not picked. We had no idea why we had no luck.
After a few failures, I told my nephews that we have to do something different to capture the staff's attention; I told them that we should take our hats off and waive it wildly to get the Disney staff's attention. We all did that and we all got picked for the "Back to the Future" show.
We didn't have to do much during the performance and ended up not seeing the performance since we were in it. I think I taught my nephews a very important lesson that anyone can do a job, but it is all for naught if you don't get someone's attention. I hope they still remember now that they are much older and starting their life after college.
This is something you should keep in mind at work, in business, school or even getting a date. Attention is like showing up in someone's brain. As Woody Allen once said that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." I think the other twenty percent of success is getting attention.
We are living in a such a fast paced world with all kinds of digital distractions. According to th BBC article "Turning into digital goldfish," our attention span is about the same as a goldfish. Hence, the key to success today is not just being good at what you do, but also being good at getting attention.
Interesting Challenge by an Author to Get His Attention
Jim Kukral offers the following challenge in the beginning of his book "Attention! This Book Will Make You Money: How to Use Attention-Getting Online Marketing to Increase Your Revenue":
"Think of a unique way to get my attention. It has to be more than writing a blog post, Tweeting me, or anything simple like that. Find a way to get my attention beyond all the typical ways most people use. If you can do it, I’ll send you a signed copy of this book (you can give this copy to a friend). I will also give you a private, no-cost one-on-one consulting session over the phone. But wait, there’s more! If you can truly, truly impress me and get my attention, I’ll also include a free prize!"
This is a very interesting challenge in that how often do we ever think about this. We do things that everyone else is doing, hoping that someone will notice. But why should they notice? They are busy and they don't have time to think about all the reasons why they should give you any of their time. The burden is on you. In fact, you often have to work first on how would you draw someone's attention before embarking on doing something. W don't plan for a party until w get the RSVP. You don't want what happened to us when we scheduled a party and got a keg of beer and few of the people who showed up didn't drink beer. I don't think we could even finish half a keg.
In her article in Time "How to Get --- and Keep --- Someone's Attention," Annie Muphy Paul points out that research has shown that to get attention when you are talking to someone, you need to focus on the following things:
Get people curious
To get someone's attention, you have to arouse some curiosity. One way to do this is to ask questions instead of giving answers.
Change and surprise
If something remain the same, people get used to it and lose attention. In order to keep people's attention, you have to change things around such as using jokes, asking a question, or telling a story.
Make it relevant and specific
Another thing you want to focus on is to be specific and link what you are saying to how it is relevant to the person. You have to --- as I like to call it --- pass the "Joy Behar" test in asking, Who cares? So What?
One of the technique that is effective in capturing people's attention is to tell stories, especially if it has strong characters, a conflict and obstacles that have to be overcome. People not only are very attentive but also remember more later.
Subject line is very important
Here you need to arouse curiosity, utility or both. When someone is not busy, then curiosity will work well with something like, "Your book helped me get a great job," or "Have a coffee on me; sending $10 Starbucks card."
An email that speaks to utility would be something like, "Will need to talk to your CEO before we make a decision." Sometimes it can be both in the following: "Do you want a four hour work week?"
Tell them why you selected them
Let the other person know a little why you selected them so there is some context than something that looks spammy.
Show that you have done some due diligence
Let people know that you have done some checking so that you are not asking something that could have easily been obtained by googling.
Show something not to obvious that you have in common
If you say you went to the same university, that's common but quite obvious; however, if you pick a certain hobby like doing a particular triathalon, then you will get attention. Look for things that are not that obvious.
Make your request specific
Do not make it difficult for people to know what you are looking for. You want to be clear, concise and concrete. Don't make people think. They got other emails to read.
Don't Forget Say "Thank You"
It is so simple but people often forget to do it. Say it twice. Once in the beginning and once at the end. How difficult is that? But it shows that you have manners and went out of your way to express sincere gratitude twice. You said it so it could not be misinterpreted.
Elon Musk is a busy guy who does not have time to respond to tweets, emails or calls. Unless you are a CEO of a big company or someone who can help his company grow, he is not likely to respond.
So what do you do if you are couple of Tesla Model S owners from New York who want to get Musk's attention?
According to Slate blog titled "Tesla Owner's Full-Page Ad Gets Elon Musk's Attention," they took out a full-page ad in Palo Alto Daily News to let Musk know about eight changes they would like to see in the future Model S sedans. Even though Musk lives in Bel Air and not Palo Alto, but someone must have seen the ad and brought it to his attention. He responded with a tweet saying: "Ad taken out in Palo Alto Daily by two Model S owners is right. Many of the suggestions will be implemented soon. pic.twitter.com/cF43PvJDgQ"
This does take some money and creativity, but the two owners did get Musk's attention, and they did not want to waste a lot of time so if you are targeting someone big, the better your approach has to be to get attention. They two owners not only got Musk's attention, but they have a great story to tell and gained a lot of free publicity for themselves. They can now get anyone to open an email with a subject header, "Do You Want to Learn How I got Elon Musk's Attention?"
Attention is hard to get, but what if you want to throw off someone's attention for whatever reason. According to Apollo Robbins in his Ted Talk "The Art of Misdirection," there are two ways to do it: misdirection and back tracking.
Misdirection is easy. We just create some distraction to get the brain focus on the distraction. But backtracking is subtle in that when we ask a person to go back in time to think what he saw, heard or perceived, he can't pay attention to what is happening in front of him. Robbins describes this using an analogy of having a guy named Frank sitting inside his brain processing information. But when you have to back track, Frank has to go into his files to see what happened a while ago and can't process new information. This makes you vulnerable if someone is playing psychological tricks on you. You have to guard yourself against this happening when someone does not want you to see what is happening in front of your eyes.
You can't accomplish anything without getting one's attention. I taught something valuable to my nephews, but I am very thankful to all the bloggers like Annie Murphy Paul and Adam Grant and many others who take time to help us become better at getting attention from others.