Have you ever had:

  • People talk over you or tune out right in the middle of what you were saying?
  • Your contributions overlooked, taken for granted, or credited to someone else?
  • A critical idea rejected because the stakeholders didn't understand its value?

If so, don't get upset with the people around you. It's not their responsibility to give you their attention, support, or respect. It's your responsibility to earn it.

That's the premise of Sam Horn's new book Got Your Attention? If you have something important you want to get across, it's up to you to be so clear, confident, and compelling that you earn the interest of decision-makers, investors, co-workers, and clients.

I had a chance to interview Sam Horn, author of POP! and Tongue Fu!, about the "Intrigue" process featured in her new book. Horn is a master of combining language and expert wisdom to make communication sticky and compelling. She shared several tips and take-aways that are sure to help you win buy-in from important stakeholders.

1. Open with an intro that has people at hello.

You may have heard the adage: "Tell people what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." Horn says: "That's a prescription for being a bore, snore, and chore." She suggests the quickest way to get smart people's attention is to open with three "Did you know. . . ?" questions that introduce startling statistics about your subject. For example, if you were writing about how to get hired, you could start with, "Did you know 80 percent of the 3.6 million job openings last year were never advertised?" Communicate a powerful eyebrow-raiser at the start and you will have earned the right to lower them with interest.

2. It's not enough be true; it's got to be new.

Information moves fast nowadays and yesterday's news can make you seem 'blah' and irrelevant. Citing outdated statistics or old tired memes fades you into the noise or, worse, undermines your credibility. Horn points out that recent = relevant. She suggests that it's smarter to reference research pulled from yesterday's Wall Street Journal or introduce what Dr. Martine Rothblatt said at SXSW. Keep current, and if you are referencing what everyone has already been saying, at the very least provide an original and interesting interpretation. Don't just roll your eyes about the Kardashian distraction and make disparaging comments. Instead speak intelligently about the pros and cons of how Kim recently refocused the media on her marketing approach by boosting the sales of Paper Magazine.

3. If it isn't actionable, it isn't useful.

So many times people get to the end of a meeting or a presentation and aren't really clear what to do next. Most of the time they simply end a meeting or business conversation with a "Thank you." That may be polite, but it also leaves results and revenue on the table. Horn suggests that beyond the thanks, give three action options so people are clear WHAT they can or should do, And WHEN and WHERE they should do it.

She likes to give this example: One of my clients ended her pitch to a room full of investors with: "Once again, I'm Marsha, the one with the white spiky hair. At our next break, I'll be out in the lobby by our booth. If you'd like a product demonstration, to talk with our CFO about our financials, or our CMO about how we're going to scale our visibility in the next few months, please come and talk to us. Once again, I'm Marsha. I look forward to connecting with you at 2:30." As it turned out, Marsha had the only booth flooded with people, because she was the only one who had gotten people's attention, and then stimulated action by suggesting specific ways to follow up.

4. Win trust by being time-efficient.

Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten said, "Let's address the elephant in the room. 'YO elephant!'" These days the elephant in the room for business communication is: "How long is this going to take?" In this world of impatience and what Horn calls Infobesity, people have the attention span of a goldfish-- really. Harvard researcher Nancy F. Koehn actually found that goldfish have longer attention spans than people; nine seconds for goldfish compared with only eight seconds for people. Google has found that 1 in 4 people abandon a website if it takes longer than 4 seconds to load. Horn likes to say: "If you're long, they're gone." She suggests that the next time you want people's attention, ask for less time than anticipated. Say, "I can only imagine how busy you are, so I've distilled my deck into ten minutes." Of course, you actually have to work on making your presentation super compelling in that timeframe. For that, you might need to read all of Horn's book.

Published on: Apr 14, 2015
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