It’s “back in the saddle time” after a week away with my other job: Momming. This week, though, my focus is all on the beginning of your message, and more specifically, why the start of your message is arguably the most important part of it.
In this case, though, I’m not talking about how to open a piece of content. No, I’m talking about where in your message your audience starts to lean in and pay attention. And I literally talked about it in my latest “Message in a Minute” video (which you can go watch here), and summarized the answer with a concept I introduce in my book:
When you know what someone wants, you know where the story starts.
Here’s the Red Thread of the video:
- GOAL: How can you get people to lean in and pay attention to your message?.
- PROBLEM: There’s often a big difference between what people actually want to know more about and what we wish they did. (What’s interesting to you isn’t always interesting to them!)
- TRUTH: It can help to remember, though, that when you know what someone wants, you know where the story starts. That’s because (1) people process new information as a story and (2) the action of a story starts when we know what the main character starts.
- CHANGE: That’s all good news for you and your message. It’s also why the most effective way to get people to pay attention to your message is to start the story of your idea by talking about something your audience currently wants, but doesn’t yet have.
- ACTION: Find your audience’s goal question.
- GOAL REVISITED: When your audience starts to see that your idea could provide a path to a previously elusive outcome, they get a nearly irresistible reason to pay attention, and you get a simple way to start structuring any message.
How to apply it
I hate a blank page. I may have mentioned this before. I also hate not having a ready answer when someone asks me a question, particularly one I may not have thought much about. A big reason I hate both of those situations? For a long time, I worried about whether or not people would even care about what I wrote or said afterward. Maybe you’ve felt the same.
Those three facts about me are actually a huge reason I came up with the Red Thread® in the first place: I wanted a reliable way to feel confident that people would actually want to read, listen, or watch whatever it is I felt compelled to create content about.
So I decided to figure how to do that.
One of the first things I discovered was how often we get stuck in what’s known as “sender-oriented communication.” That’s where we message-makers focus more on getting our message “out there” than on getting our message successfully across to the “receiver” (your audience). When you do that, though, the nearly inevitable result is that you focus on what you want and need in and from your message, and not on what your audience does.
That mindset often dictates what we spend time on or focus on within the message itself: what we, as the creators of the idea (or product or service) already think is great about the idea. We talk about all the amazing things it does or will do for the audience, what makes it great and important (from our point of view), and why the audience should definitely ACT NOW to get all those amazing benefits.
The problem? They may not actually care. Yet. And continuing to talk to them about something they don’t care about… well, there be dragons. (Side note on that link: my thanks to dedicated newsletter reader Melissa Smith for reminding me that I wrote it!)
Digging further, I discovered something else: how our brains process new information as a story, though without the “once upon a time…” lead-in. Our brains constantly assign roles (hero! villain! victim!), motivations (altruism! selfishness! bravery!), and relationships (cause! effect! irrelevant!) to explain what happens to us and around us—and all of this happens pre-consciously! Without us thinking about it!
And so I wanted to know: what starts that story? If I could figure that out, then I could figure out not only where to start messages and content but where to start them from the audience’s point of view. So, I wondered, where do “once upon a time…” stories start? And what I found out was: they don’t start where you might think they do. They usually don’t start with the first line or in the opening shot.
Sure, you might be curious after reading, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” or after seeing a wizard walk down a normal suburban street at nighttime to leave a baby on a doorstep. But the moment you get engaged in the story of that baby—Harry Potter—is the moment you realize that Harry wants a family that is… very much not the one he has. That he wants a family that understands and accepts him for who he is and what he can do.
And, since some of us in the audience want that same thing, too, we lean in and pay attention. Even if we don’t, though, our brains can’t resist finding out what happens when we realize someone wants something they don’t have—especially when that “someone” happens to be us. That’s what I found out from all of that digging: when you know what someone wants (and doesn’t have), you know where the story starts. And that applies to both “brain” stories and “once upon a time” stories.
Knowing that, now you can use it: your audience will automatically be engaged when they hear or see a story about something they want and don’t yet have. And since that applies to messages, too, you have your answer for how to make sure people are engaged in your message: Make your message start with something they want and don’t yet have (and not just something you wish they wanted and wished they had!).
In the language of the Red Thread, that’s what I call the audience’s GOAL, and the easiest way to find it is to frame it as a question they’re asking. Do you have to start your content with that question, right in the first line? No. Like any good storyteller, feel free to set the scene and give context (and yes, you can tell a “once upon a time” story to do that!).
But however you begin, make sure that your audience sees or hears—early on—that you’re going to answer their question. Not only will their brain know a potentially important “story” has started, you’ll also guarantee your message will be “receiver-oriented.” Even better? You’ll never again have to wonder where or how to start your most messages most effectively: you’ll start it where they are.Your audience will automatically be engaged when they hear or see a story about something they want and don't yet have. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
I hear it all the time. People say, “Tamsen, how can we get people to pay more attention to our ideas and messages?” And the quick answer, your message in a minute is that when you know what someone wants, that’s where their story starts. See, when we try to add interest and intrigue to our messages, a lot of times we focus on what we wish people wanted more than on what they actually want. But the way people process new information is as a story. We structure it as a story and like all good stories, we really engage with the story the minute we know what someone wants. So when you can start your message with what your audience wants, then that story starts in their mind and they lean in because they want to see how that story ends. Good news. It’s with your idea. I am Tamsen Webster. This has been your message in a minute. You can find more at tamsenwebster.com and sign up for my newsletter at tamsenwebster.com/newsletter.
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