07/14/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/14/2020 12:55
Think back to middle school English classes. You were taught that your titles should summarize your main points. People should be able to get the gist of what you're talking about by just reading the title. The problem is that what you learned in English class is wrong. You don't want your executives or stakeholders believing they know what you're going to say without reading what you've said, do you?
Probably the best approach to getting people to read what you're writing is to stop summarizing what you're going to say and instead add a bit of intrigue. When you ask a question in your title, people begin to wonder whether you'll support the point or not - and it makes them want to read what you're writing.
Do you know if a teaser can add to your attention? We've all been victims of the click-bait kinds of post on social media where you feel like you just must find out the answer. While most of us don't tolerate the idea that we're suckered into something that has nothing to do with the title, we love solving puzzles.
Have you ever heard the first part of a song and you can't get it out of your head? It's like it's stuck there on repeat. Your brain keeps coming back to it over and over again and doesn't let it go. That's one aspect of the Zeigarnik effect. It's the effect that happens when something is left incomplete. If you want to get the song out of your head, listen to it all the way through to its end.
In writing so that people will read your messages, one trick is to trigger the Zeigarnik effect by giving them the setup of the joke but not the punch line. Because they know something is coming, they'll be attentively looking for it - and in the process may attention to what you're trying to say to them.
What if our laughter is a form of error checking routine? It's what happens when we leap to the wrong conclusion. That's what I was taught. Magicians and comics know that the subtle art of misdirection can get the crowd to let out a collective gasp or an explosive roar of laughter. If you can make people believe one thing and then change the meaning, the result is most often laughter. If you start a joke with 'three men walk into a bar,' you've got the setup. You're waiting on what comes next.
That drives the reticular activating system (RAS) in your brain crazy. The RAS is responsible for our sleep cycle, but it's also the thing that causes us to notice that every other car just like ours right after we've bought a new car - that we can't remember having seen on the road before. By establishing there should be a punchline, we've tricked the RAS into engaging in the hunt for it.
When the punchline shows up - 'the fourth one ducks' - our brain is suddenly forced to reevaluate what it thought the whole thing was about. If it's not a lame, punny, low-brow sort of joke, the result is laughter. Sometimes followed with, 'Good one, you got me.'
Intrigue in your headlines can be a sure-fire way to get people to read your messages if only for the reason to know whether they should laugh - or groan. Instead of a message announcing a maintenance window the typical way, what would happen if you announced it with 'Sales Squirrel Convention Planned for Saturday, No Sales Support'? You can continue the theme in the message indicating that the squirrels that run the sales system need to go to a convention for four hours on Saturday morning, and while they're gone you're going to be upgrading their feeders to ensure better and more productive squirrels upon their return. Crazy? Yes. Will people read it? Probably.
Or how about the beloved security messages? 'Don't open email attachments from people outside the organization.' Can you take a line from the TSA handbook and say, 'How many phish did people catch last week from our organizational pond?' You can then show statistics of phishing attempts that were thwarted by the systems - and why they're not perfect, so everyone should be careful.
With a bit of creativity and a dash of intrigue, you can make sure that your messages - about any topic - are read and remembered.