A Slight-Edge Principle to Grab and Keep Audience Interest in Your Stories
Have you ever watched a movie or listened to stories that were either boring, or just plain bad, but, felt compelled to stay all the way to the end?
If so, there’s nothing wrong with you – well, to the best of my knowledge there’s not. You’re experiencing a normal reaction. You were experiencing the impact of a concept called the Zeigarnik Effect, named after the woman who discovered it, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.
In layman’s terms, this Effect states that human beings can’t stand uncertainty… they have to know the conclusion of a story or situation.
Think about everyday experiences you have that tap into your curiosity and create a need for you to learn more:
- While watching TV at home, you’re attention is drawn to the news promo that bursts onto the screen at 9:40 pm – “Downtown fire has spread! More at 11:00!”
- In the middle of watching Sports Center on ESPN, one of the anchors announces “This might be the catch of the year. Stay tuned.” You then sit through 4 commercial breaks until they show ‘The Catch.’
- You’re standing in line at the grocery when you notice the headline on the Weekly World News Tattler magazine, “You won’t believe what happened during Brad and Angie’s romantic weekend getaway!”
What these crafty media outlets have learned is how to tap into your need to have your curiosity satisfied. You might not live or work downtown, but you want to know about that fire. You may have seen hundreds of great catches in your life, but you want to see what was so great about the latest one. You also may not give a hoot about celebrities, but… your curiosity is piqued and you just might have to take a look at the tabloid magazine to see what’s up with Hollywood’s ‘power couple.’
(I’ve never done this, mind you. I do have several, ummm, friends, who have done this. I’m above all of that tabloid silliness.)
What does this have to do with speaking?
Plenty. When you create curiosity at key points in your presentation, you trigger the Zeigarnik Effect in your audience. They must know what happens.
This is why I don’t agree with the old speaker’s admonition to ‘Tell ‘Em What You’re Gonna Tell ‘Em. Tell ‘Em. Then Tell ‘Em What You Told ‘Em.’ If you follow this formula, you will not create curiosity because you give away the ending too soon. And you will most likely not keep their interest.
Where do you use this effect. As close to the beginning of your talk as possible. Also, when introducing new stories to support your points. Create curiosity, and you develop interest that keeps them riveted.
One important point to keep in mind as you craft your talks. If you arouse their curiosity, by all means, satisfy it by the end. I’ve seen far too many speakers leave audiences hanging with unanswered questions. This leaves them feeling unsatisfied at the end, if not irritated.
The Zeigarnik Effect. It’s a natural desire for human beings to know the result of a story or situation. Effectively use this tool, and you’ll create an experience that leaves your audience wanting more, and talking about you long after you speak.
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