You’re familiar with the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it definitely is a benefit to human beings. This emotion can be an effective tool to creating [and keeping] your audience’s interest.
In their classic business book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss the power of curiosity, stating “The human brain, once it is faced with a question, does not rest easy until the question is answered.” They further add “it’s like having an itch that needs to be scratched.”
How can this help you as a speaker? Use curiosity to create questions that keep your audience’s attention. Think about a standard business presentation. Typically it follows a basic format, a ‘data dump’ of information that leaves nothing to the imagination and does not challenge the listener. It is merely a rehash of ideas that could easily be handed out on an 8-1/2” x 11” sheet and emailed to the audience.
Or, consider the speaker who wants to prevent accidents at a dangerous intersection. She could cite a long list of statistics, examples of ineffective state laws, and make a plea to install traffic lights to reduce accidents. The information is correct, but does not create curiosity and desire to hear more.
On the other hand, what if she started with a story about Josh and Maria, driving home from a party, and sideswiped at the intersection by an inattentive driver. What questions could this scene raise? Do Josh and Maria survive? What about the other driver? What could have been done to prevent the accident? How many other families have been affected by accidents in this intersection? Why hasn’t something been done before? What will happen as a result of this latest accident?
By raising these questions, the speaker gains the audiences’ attention, emotionally pulls them into her speech, and is more likely to gain their support to take action to solve the problem.
As you write your next presentation, take the advice of the Heath brothers…rather than ask “What information do I need to convey?” ask “What questions do I need to ask my audience to raise their curiosity?” Those questions will draw the audience into your world as you keep them on the edge of their seats, waiting to have their curiosity satisfied.
© 2012, Michael Davis. All rights reserved.