“Slap them!,” was the first response I got when I asked my audience at a recent media training what they thought was the most effective way to get someone’s attention. The other answers won’t surprise you, either: scream, make a sudden movement, whisper, stop talking, whistle, say something unexpected. All of these would work, and they all have something in common: they break a pattern. Breaking a pattern is the most effective way to get someone’s attention.
Think about it, when you slap someone, which I don’t recommend if you really want them to take in what you have to say, you are breaking the “pattern” of mutual respect of personal space. When you scream, you are breaking the pattern of expected ambient noise, conversational voice volume, etc. When you make a sudden movement, you are breaking the pattern of expected behavior.
Of course, for our purposes as communicators, the best of these offerings is “say something unexpected.” Saying something unexpected is the most effective way to break a communication pattern and get your audience’s attention, whether it’s in a live setting, an interview or in writing.
Advertisers spend jillions of dollars trying to do this with just about every ad they produce for familiar products. How do you sell a floor mop or your granddad’s Old Spice or car insurance in a way that breaks the patterns associated with advertisements about these familiar products? You might show tiny people dressed up as dirt and mud and getting swept off their feet while recalling clichéd pick-up lines. Or you show a young, handsome man braving quicksand, snakes, alligators and piranha with unwavering aplomb because he’s confident he smells good. Or you could use a naked, irresistibly cool, James Bond-like gecko as your pitch man. All these ads get our attention, and often go viral, because they break patterns in ways that surprise and delight us.
The fun part for you is determining how to talk about a subject that is terribly familiar to you, and one that may already have strong associations for your audience, in a new or unexpected way. It takes figuring out what your intended audience already knows, thinks or feels about your subject matter; what “control mythologies” already hold sway over their opinions about it; what their expectations are surrounding communications about it; and what patterns have been established in the way you have communicated about it in the past.
A contrast frame worksheet is an effective tool for getting through this challenging, but essential process. It can help you describe the conceptual shift you’d like to make from an existing narrative to your new story. Through this process, you will be able to uncover existing control mythologies at work around you, your product or your issue and define what you want to replace them with. You can then use the frame to distill the control mythologies down to the assumptions that support them and describe the alternatives you would like to see instead.
As you go along, be sure to be thinking about the patterns of communicating about you, your product or your issue that may need to be broken in order to get the attention of your intended audience(s) so you can begin to establish your new story.
“A brick makes an excellent window cleaner.”