How to… keep your audience’s attention

Caroline Florence, The Insight Narrator, 8/5/2015

I have a confession: even if I care about a content topic, I will rarely read something all of the way through.

To do that, it needs to captivate me at an early stage.

This is why you need to get your message across from the start: I might then remember what you have to say. If you can find a way to ‘hook me in’, I might stay with your content all the way through.

Imagine you’re a comedian playing to a live audience. Until you get the first laugh, the audience doesn’t really know what to expect from your gig. However, if you get an early laugh, the audience can start to relax and will look forward to the rest of the gig, anticipating that it will live up to their expectations. 

The same principle applies to your B2B content.

Until your reader has read your first page, he won’t know whether he’ll want to invest his time in reading all of your content. Making a high impact on the first page is like getting the first laugh: your audience now knows that the content will be useful to them and will be worth reading.

Getting off to a good start

Think about how a newspaper lays out a story.

The most important piece of information comes first and the rest of the detail is added in order of importance.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a one-page case study or a twenty-page slide deck, you should invest time in getting the first chart, paragraph or opening sentence right. This will have a massive effect on the connection you can make with your audience.

A high-impact start pulls people out of their pre-occupations and encourages them to engage fully with your content rather than to follow other distractions.

Things to consider

Key questions to ask yourself when thinking about how to make an impact include:

  • What is the most important question that your content is helping to address?
  • What are the three main points that sum up your answer to the question?
  • What is the most interesting point in your content?
  • Is there any evidence or are there examples that will heighten the impact of your message?
  • What would you want to know most of all if you were reading the content from cold?

How to create a high-impact start

1. The first sentence should stand out from the rest of the copy and should provoke a reaction in the reader’s mind. You want them to start thinking about the content for themselves as soon as possible, as this will draw them in further.

Some great ways of making an immediate connection include:

  • A killer statistic - e.g. ‘X% of your customers think that…’
  • A thought-provoking question - e.g. ‘Did you know…?’ or ‘How would you feel if...?’
  • A provocative statement that contradicts the norm - e.g. ‘Typically companies focus on X, when they should be focusing on …’
  • A future scenario - e.g. ‘What would you do if…?’
  • An imaginary world - e.g. ‘Imagine a world where…’
  • A real life story - e.g. ‘When I last visited a branch of …’
  • A quote - e.g. "Well, if you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you’ll have time to do it over?" - Seth Godin
  • An analogy - e.g. ‘Our current situation is like…’
  • A comparison - e.g. ‘When Brand X went through the same situation…’
  • A rhetorical question - e.g. ‘Is it time we stopped / started...?’
  • A confession - e.g. ‘Did you know that…?’

2. A good first page or section should quickly summarise the rest of content. Assume that the reader might not have time to read on – if so, you want them to take away the key message as soon as possible.

3. Get your first sentence or slide right first, before moving on. This enables you to gain feedback on your message before you invest time in pulling together the rest of your content. I always write out my first page before I decide what I’m going to include in the final copy. This has saved me valuable time for two reasons:

  • I don’t waste time in writing too much irrelevant content that will later be cut out.
  • If I get a reaction to my summary that requires re-work, I only have to re-work the summary and not the whole document.

A free gift…

Are you a business executive, manager or leader who wants to improve your cut-through and impact with colleagues, stakeholders and clients?

Do you want to hone your existing content skills by accessing high-impact tools and techniques that you can apply straight away?

Download the first chapter of ‘Content that CLICKS: How to create great content in 20 steps’ FREE of charge.