The Secret To Captivating Your Audience


As a channel marketing manager, my job was to provide sales teams with marketing programs to help grow their business. Every year a new collection of marketing tools were presented at regional sales meetings across the country. My presentations were enthusiastic and optimistic, because after all… I was there to help.

Frustratingly, I couldn’t hold my audiences’ attention. My presentations were filled with ways to grow their business and yet they didn’t seem to care. I tried every trick in the book: humor, prizes, special effects, guest speakers… even alcohol. Nothing worked.

I recently stumbled on a little trick to get audiences engaged and it works unbelievably well. The secret is this: provide a mystery. Sound intriguing? Let me explain. Here is an example of how I should have presented that valuable information to those sales teams:

“Recently a sales team very much like yours grew their business by twenty-five percent in just twelve months. Would you like to know how they did it? I will cover the three techniques they used to grow their business along with many others in my presentation today. At the end I will reveal the specific techniques that helped that sales team blow their goals out of the water.”

Why does this approach work?

The magic of mystery. When you pose a mystery, you have presented an unresolved puzzle. Because mysteries require explanations, your audience will be drawn into your speech or presentation to find the resolution. The reason this technique is so effective is we crave closure and hate unresolved issues. So, when you want an audience to pay attention, give them a mystery to solve and promise to reveal clues throughout your story.

Relevance. When you hand someone a group photo in which they appear, whose image do they look at first? Theirs, of course. In fact, studies show they look at themselves longer than anyone else in the photo. Why? Because our focus tends to be on anything that is self-connected.

By posing the mystery with solutions that benefit your audience, you will attract their attention.

Social proof. Success stories alleviate the perception of risk. Human beings are by nature risk-averse, which is quite practical. Had our ancestors been less risk-averse we wouldn’t be here today because risky behavior would have prevented them from passing along their genes.

We like the “sure thing” over the unknown. It’s how we are wired. If a solution worked for our peers or competitors, we tend to believe it will work for us. That’s the power of social proof.

Not only does the mystery approach work with presentations and speeches, but also in meetings and one-on-one conversations. Story telling is great, but it’s much more effective when it’s a mystery.

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