How to engage a distracted world: Five storytelling tips

26 July 2023  |  Insights
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With people’s attention spans apparently shortening by the second, how do you communicate your organisation’s stories in a way that holds attention and causes a deep engagement with your content?

Author Gloria Mark, in her latest book ‘Attention Span’, reports that people spend an average of just 47 seconds on any one screen before shifting their attention elsewhere and it can take them up to 25 minutes to return attention back to the original focus.

This is the dilemma that faces all communications and PR specialists in 2023. Whether you are working on a press release, a news article, producing a video series or writing a blog post, the battle for consumer attention has never been as fierce. In order to tell a powerful story, you are reliant on people firstly consuming that information to the point where it resonates with them and they are moved to action or reflection as a result.

How is this possible when today’s audience is being pulled in ten different directions by their screens, multi-tasking their to-do list and being interrupted by phone notifications?

Maryanne Wolf, a Director at the University of California, believes that the speed at which we are now required to function in order to keep up with the pressures of our day and the demands on our time, has resulted in us losing the ability to immerse ourselves in any one thing.

She comments: “We have all changed. We don’t even realise it, but there’s a patience that’s needed inside ourselves to give attention to inference, empathy, critical analysis. It takes effort. And we’re so accustomed to going so fast that the immersiveness is difficult.”

Ultimately, too many digital distractions are eroding our ability to read deeply, and so we skim as a coping strategy.

Is that your phone pinging?

As a result of these realities, if your charity or organisation has a powerful story to tell then you must be extremely diligent in removing as many obstacles as you can, which will give you the best chance at attracting and engaging your audience.

At this point, you may even yourself be tempted to leave this article for a moment and quickly check your emails, or click on that ad which has just popped up on your feed. Stay on track, as below are some solutions to give your communications real stickability.

Here are five things that you can be doing to help eliminate distraction for your audience and cause them to lock into your great content:

1 Headlines are key

Headlines are your first contact. They either draw a person in, or can drive them straight past. The same applies to your subject lines in an email or media pitch.

Your headlines or subject lines need to be crisp and not wordy. They need to be audience-centric, not you-centric. They need to evoke curiosity but not give everything up.

Use your headline as an opportunity to fill a curiosity gap, in the hope that your audience decides despite having ten other things they could engage with, that your content is worth their focus and undivided attention.

This is where it is vital to know your audience and learn what matters to them. What questions are they asking?

2 Front-load your story with value

It is essential to front-load your story with high value content that will grip your audience and give them a reason to stay. If you wait too long to provide value and continue to string people along, they will eventually either skip to the end or leave altogether, having decided that this is simply not giving them instant value.

Nail down the most powerful element of your story and lead with it. Don't wind your way through a slow build up as your audience may be long gone by the time you reach your destination.

You must assume that your audience may only read a portion of your content, in which case you want them to have taken away the main thrust and key piece of value that is going to inform their minds as they go.

3 Video is more memorable than text

Did you know that video viewers can remember up to 95 per cent of a message, compared with 10 per cent when that message is in text form?

There is a high ceiling when it comes to your audience’s retention of a story if it is delivered by video. We only need to look at YouTube consumption to see how effective this strategy is.

Could you tell your story through a visual lens in order to allow your audience to engage more deeply with the story that you are communicating?

Video is also very shareable. Clips, teasers and reels can be made that neatly package up all the key components of your story in a bitesize format. Key messages and emotive hooks can be consumed in short doses which both informs your audience and builds curiosity for them to find out more.

4 Find an emotional hook in your story

People love an emotive, personal story that they can resonate with. The best stories are told in a way that allows the audience to feel included, heard and seen. Find the hope in your story, the point of transformation, the shock factor, the most-moving element and bring it to the fore.

This is also a key discipline for pitching your story to the mainstream media. National outlets are constantly being pitched stories from smaller organisations and this creates a need to stand out. They are looking for stories with a point of difference, told from a refreshing angle where there is a powerful emotive element.

People act as a result of feeling an emotional connection to a cause, campaign or story – so as charity communicators, providing opportunities for connection is critical to our success.

5 Cut out the jargon

Wherever possible, avoid the use of unnecessarily long and complex words. It may feel like the inclusion of a word elevates your message or personal impressiveness, but in reality this can be a barrier for your audience.

When you have to work hard to understand and process what you are taking in, this is both mentally draining and it takes more time. These are two things that people in 2023 do not need, so make their engagement with your content as smooth as it can be. Be accessible and plain in your language.

At a time when people's attention is in short supply, utilise these five steps and see your stories resonate, among the sea of noise.

By Liam Flint, Marketing & Communications Officer, Jersey Road PR

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