Headlines: How To Grab Your Audience’s Attention

First impressions last. We may not feel comfortable with this concept, but whether we like it or not, it applies to so many aspects of our lives: people, food, ideas, commercial products, the list goes on…

But why does this matter? In newspapers, magazines and blogs, the headline is the gatekeeper. If your interest is spiked enough by the title, then you might just stick around long enough to find out what it’s all about. In Presentations, the exact same holds true. Perhaps even more-so than the above given that every slide has its own headline — and sometimes that is all that’s on the slide!

So the importance of engaging your audience’s attention with your headline cannot be overstated. If you’re not getting traction on your headlines, here is a couple of proven ways to help you spark your audience’s interest:

1. Appeal to their innate curiosity.

Fortunately, we are a curious species. If there is something we don’t know, we will inevitably seek to find an answer once we become aware that we don’t know/understand it. As such, this leaves people open to being influenced by advertisers, marketers and presenters who know how to elicit this response.

TRY THIS LITTLE GEM: One way this can be achieved is by simply using words like “secret” or “mystery” in your headline. People love to know secrets! It can also be accomplished by making a claim that seems far-fetched, but plausible enough to get them to question it for themselves: ‘Within 10 years, would you pick the genetic make-up of your children?’

2. Surprise your brain.

There was a really interesting study conducted at the University College London, which ran experiments affecting the part of the brain responsible for predictions and comparisons; the hippocampus. The researchers found that the brain physiologically reacts if there is a discrepancy between what is expected and what is reality. The physiological response will engage the audience and make them more likely to listen to/read your content.

FOLLOW THIS TO GET INSIDE THEIR BRAINS: This can be utilized in your next presentation by taking a well-known phrase and substituting your content into it. For example, perhaps you’re dong a presentation on utilizing a Freemium model in your business, you may employ the slogan: ‘Barking up the wrong Free’.

3. Negatives

Various studies have shown that the use of negative superlatives (such as “worst’ or “never”) capture an audience’s attention significantly more than positive superlatives (such as “best” or “most”). They appeal to our inner insecurities and make us more attentive. We tend to sensationalize the negatives, whilst being underwhelmed by the positives. Essentially, it follows the same principle told in business: ‘do something your customers love and they’ll tell one person, but do something they hate and they’ll tell ten’.

HERE’S HOW TO GET NEGATIVE: An example of how to use this in your presentation could be using the headline ‘Never make the same mistakes I did’ as opposed to ‘Always follow these lessons I learnt’. This may not be practical in all presentations, but if you have the choice, opt for the negative.

4. Questions

Questions will always stimulate your audience to ask themselves the question first. If they have any difficultly in finding the answer, or if the question has them wanting to compare their answer with others, then you’ve got them hooked.

5. Stats and Numbers

Statistics and Numbers provide quantitative proof of an idea or argument before you’ve even started making your case. They can be used to prime your audience so that by the time you are making your first point, they are already invested in your idea. Try to use them sparingly for maximum impact.

There are no limits when you are creating a headline and the above is by no-means an exhaustive list, so try and combine these approaches with some improvisation for best results. However, don’t forget that grabbing the reader’s attention is only the first part of conveying your message. Make sure it is backed up with content that is informative, engaging and is delivered confidently.