Do I Have Your Attention?

Jon Barney is an up-and-coming writer in the Orlando, Florida area (originally from Lafayette, LA, and has a lot of big ideas about a lot of things. Jon says he has an amazing wife and two kids, and he “loves the hotel restaurant industry and corny jokes,” which makes him a man after my own heart. Jon is also in Toastmasters, and he wrote an interesting speech about getting and keeping people’s attention.

According to a 2015 Microsoft study, I will only have your attention until about. . .now. Eight measly, little seconds. Then I will have to work real hard to keep you from thinking about the errands you have to run later. Don’t feel bad for your short attention span. We are in good company, our friend the goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds.

What is attention anyway, and why do we have to pay for it? Is it something we can control and direct or is it like the dog who sees a SQUIRREL!? Since attention is not food, why are people starved for it? I’m here to tell you today that attention is your most valuable resource and you need to control it, and protect it.

Attention is the notice of something we deem interesting or important. Have you ever sat down on the couch and got comfortable? You are about to watch Days of Our Lives or a football game; and your kids start screaming and yelling, fighting with each other? What happened? They were fine a minute ago. Your kids saw that they didn’t have your attention and they knew the fastest way to get it back.

We all need attention, we all want to feel important to someone.

When you receive attention from someone, you will receive the actions that flow from that attention, which could lead to feelings of love. That is why we hear stories of housewives, starved for attention, thrust into the arms of another man, Raul. No attention. No importance. No love.

It is why men walk around with puffed out chests, peacocking and showboating. It is why women take care in their appearance. We all act and dress in a way that draws. . . attention.

Attention isn’t only about importance and love. It is the very first step in any form of communication. For example: You’re watching the game. You’re leaned forward, hands clasped, staring at the TV. It’s the last 2 minutes and the score is tied. Then you hear, (wom wom wom wom, Charlie Brown teacher voice) and you say ok just to get it to stop. Then once the game is over, you sit down for dinner with your spouse and get, the look. “Did you take out the trash?” “NO” “Well, I asked you to do it 30 minutes ago!!” “What? I don’t remember that.” “You were watching the game and you said ok when I asked you.” We’ve all been there, once or a thousand times. Don’t deliver important messages unless you have their attention first. We need attention to feel importance and to communicate. But how do we get it?

There are many ways to get attention, some positive and some negative. We must first know how attention works. Your body, every part of it, eyes, nose, mouth, ears and skin is gathering information, receiving signals. Then sending them to your brain for processing into two categories: important and unimportant. To illustrate my point, let’s go for a walk in the woods. We are walking and we see a tree. “Ehhh, not important, keep going.” Then as we get closer to that tree we look down and see a massive, coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike. “OMG, I’M GONNA DIE. IMPORTANT!!” Our basic sorting system is for survival and reproduction, those two processes guide most of our attention.

Sometimes it take a bright red car to get people paying attention to you.How could we use the eyes to garner attention? Use the color red. Red is a bold color that commands our attention. If you want to get a lot of attention today, head down to the dealership, trade your car in and drive off in Red Corvette. Put the top down and drive slowly. Instant attention.

How could we use the ears to get attention? Have you ever boarded your flight, sat down, book out, ready to relax and then…you hear a baby start crying? “Really?” You can’t focus on anything else. Our human brains are hardwired to divert our attention to the crying infant. We have to stop it from crying. Diaper change, bottle, attention, whatever it takes. What a survival mechanism!

How could we use the nose to attract attention? You could wear a delicious, floral smelling perfume or musky cologne. Or you could fart in an elevator. Both are powerful ways to command attention. Now, I’m not saying to buy a corvette, cry like a baby or pass gas to get attention, but it will work. Which lead us to a more important question, what can you do when you have attention?

This is where things get cloudy. When you have someone’s full attention you are free to influence them any way you please. Sell them on a new product. Manipulate them into a situation. Seduce them from their lover. It is for these reasons, you should control and protect your own attention.

Have you ever heard the phrase “pay attention”? What that means is that for your ability to focus on something, you pay for it by ignoring everything else. It is like a zoomed in picture of a flower, you can see all the detail and its beauty. But everything else is fuzzy and out of focus.

This “Zoom Lens” feature of our brains is a great tool when you are in the pursuit of your dreams. Or realizing a new healthier version of yourself. Maybe you want to reignite a love that had gone cold. On the other hand is can lock us into an 8-hour Netflix binge. It is the reason why we drive staring down at our phones instead of the road. And why we work so much we never see our family.

I know that this speech was just a little longer than eight seconds. I see the goldfish is still paying attention so it couldn’t have been that bad. I hope that you found it interesting and important. We covered a lot, we learned how to love. How to communicate. How to gain attention without embarrassing yourself or buying a new car. But the most important takeaway from this speech is simple: Take control of your attention, or something else will.

Photo credit: Scott Webb (Unsplash.com, Creative Commons 0>

Handshake is NOT a Verb

Turning nouns into verbs for business purposes is the Death Of A Thousand Cuts to writers and people who care about language. It kills us slowly, cut by cut. Blood drop by blood drop.

I recently heard someone say on a podcast, And when they’re really ready, we’ll handshake them to the investor community.

How do you handshake someone to someone else? What does that mean? Is that even a thing?

Yes, it means to introduce someone. They’re going to introduce people to the investor community.

So why don’t you just say “we’ll introduce them to the investor community?”

Uhh, this way sounds cooler?

No. It doesn’t. It sounds awkward. It sounds like someone tried to come up with some other name to mean the same thing they’re actually trying to say, only they want to say it differently.

I understand the sentiment. You want to introduce people to each other. When they are introduced, they will shake hands. So, you “handshake them” to someone else.

But there was nothing wrong with “introduce” in the first place. You’re taking something that was just fine, in perfect working order, and you improved it.

And by “improved it,” I mean “jumped up and down on it until it was a mangled heap, barely recognizable to even its own mother.”

The problem with business jargon is that people who use it just want to sound cool. They come up with some new term to mean something else.

People talk about “onboarding” when they mean “sign up.”

They “ideate” when they mean “come up with ideas,” or even “think.”

And they say “handshake to” when they mean “introduce.”

Hopefully you’ve never done this yourself. Hopefully you’ve never used “handshake” as a verb, at least when you’re introducing two people. (I understand it’s a term used to describe the way two computers communicate — they “handshake” with each other. But that’s the computer world.)

If you have, I won’t judge. I won’t cast aspersions on your character or demean your language abilities.

But I would ask you to stop it.

On a going forward basis.

Use Communication Theory to Boost Search Engine Optimization

The persuasion theory behind celebrity endorsements is the same theory behind Google’s new social media search.

It’s called Balance Theory, and when you understand the essence of it, you start to understand why Google is putting so much stock into Google+. And how Google+ can enhance your own search experience.

Balance Theory and Celebrity Endorsements

Without getting into all the scientific language we used when I was in graduate school, balance theory basically says this:

  • I like Celebrity A.
  • Celebrity A likes Product B.
  • That means I should like (and buy) Product B as well.

(Fellow philosophy majors will also recognize this as the 2 premises/1 conclusion logical construction.)

In other words, I like Eminem. Eminem likes Chrysler. Therefore, I should also like Chrysler. (The danger is that if I don’t like Celebrity A, I’ll purposely not like Product B just to restore that balance. It’s why a lot of sponsors drop celebrities who get into trouble.)

This is what marketers are counting on when they put a celebrity’s name and face on a product or company. It’s why Eminem is schlepping Chrysler on the Super Bowl. It’s why Reebok is clamoring for contracts with the NFL. It’s why Nike puts famous basketball players on its shoes.

This is the same basic idea that goes into Google’s personalized “My World” search results. If you’ve used Google lately, you’ve noticed that a lot of your friends are appearing in those results. That’s because Google is relying on Balance Theory to help improve your search results. (Maybe not intentionally, but that’s what’s at play here.)

Here’s what they’re doing with it:

  • I like Douglas Karr.
  • Douglas Karr has talked about corporate blogging.
  • That means I should check out what Douglas has said about corporate blogging.

And if I like what Google has shown me, I’ll continue to use Google.

Google's Personal Results for Corporate Blogging

These are the PERSONAL results for "corporate blogging." But that is not really Jason Falls in the 2nd picture from the left.

How Can You Use Balance Theory in Search Engine Optimization?

If you’re building your personal brand, or you’re doing social media marketing for your company, the best way to use Balance Theory for your search engine optimization is to use Google+, and develop relationships with key decision makers at the companies you want to do business with.

  • Connect with the decision makers at the companies you’re trying to reach.
  • Write blog posts about the key areas and problems they’re dealing with at their company. You can find that out just by paying attention to their conversations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.
  • Continue to share important articles with them related to those same areas and problems. (This is all part of that “be a valuable resource” stuff we’ve talked about before.)

Then, as these people search for those particular keywords, your blog posts and your articles will rise to the top of their search engine results page. End result? “Hmm, this person seems to know an awful lot about this topic. I wonder what else they can help me with?”

However, this is not a reason to connect with everyone you can find on Google+ or to spam the bejeezus out of them with all kinds of articles and blog posts. You do that, and you’ll most certainly be blocked and ignored by everyone you’re trying to reach. Just write about what you want to write about at an acceptable pace, and connect with a reasonable number of people on a level that doesn’t seem creepy, desperate, or spammy.

With a little effort and just by following some common sense, you can use the Balance Theory — something usually only used by marketers with millions to spend — to start winning higher search engine rankings on your chosen keywords.

What Will Twitter Do With TweetDeck?

The news that Twitter just bought TweetDeck for a reported $50 million has me a little worried, because Twitter has a history of killing its acquisitions, sort of like Lennie and soft things in Of Mice and Men.

It got worse after Mrinal Desai gave his five reasons why they were going to do it. It made me wonder, would Twitter really spend $50 million to kill a program that makes Twitter work better than their clunky interface?

If they were smart, Twitter would use TweetDeck as a way to win new users, not kill it to force people to use Twitter.com.

I use TweetDeck to keep up with different groups of people, making my Twitter stream easier to manage and follow.

TweetDeck makes using Twitter easy

I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to who didn’t get Twitter. They stared at Twitter.com and tried to keep up with the 50 people they were following. “Everything keeps going by so fast, I can’t even read it all.” TweetDeck lets you divide your Twitter stream into columns, either based on search terms or groups of people, and tweets are easier to read and follow.

Twitter.com is about as clunky as an old Edsel with square wheels, and is a pain to use. I hate having to click to see different tabs If they want people to use Twitter, they’ll keep TweetDeck around.

Twitter can feed ads into TweetDeck more easily.

Imagine if you’re forced to use Twitter.com for your Twitter stream. My tweets go by so fast on there, I’ll get a couple hundred in 10 minutes. If Twitter wants to slip in an ad, it will be easier for me to miss. While Twitter may be able to sell ads based on how often they’re served, “served” does not equal “seen.”

TweetDeck, on the other hand, makes it easier to see the ads. If I have a hashtag search column up while I’m watching a Colts game, I am more likely to see an ad that is not only slipped into that stream, but it can be targeted to me because I’m talking about the Colts. There are already enough bot programmers in the world, Twitter should be able to figure out how to serve targeted ads to people based on their conversations, and should be able to slide them into searches and lists that meet certain requirements.

For example, put a sporting goods ad in a sports hashtag discussion. Slide a restaurant ad in any list labeled with a city name, or even based on a conference hashtag.

TweetDeck is Just Awesome

I like TweetDeck for any number of reasons (to be fair, there are plenty of people who think HootSuite and Seesmic are awesome too. They’re wrong, but I support their beliefs.).

  • TweetDeck lets me communicate with my Facebook, LinkedIn, and FourSquare accounts.
  • I can support more than one Twitter account, which is important since I manage Twitter accounts for several clients.
  • It lets me view pictures and watch videos in little pop-up windows, rather than just visiting the original website.
  • I can schedule tweets for any minute, not in 5 minute increments like HootSuite used to do (they changed it, but when I had to make the decision, HootSuite was still only doing 10:15, 10:20 etc.)

There are a lot of Twitter clients out there. If they want to kill any apps, they need to look at some of the smaller ones that don’t do very much and kill them instead. It would clean up the market a bit, it would prevent future problems by saving them from accessibility and interface problems, and could give them a preferred client to send people to in order to help them use Twitter better.

My hope is that Twitter is taking all of this into account, and will keep TweetDeck as the official Twitter client. If not, I’m hanging on to mine as long as I can, and will use it for as long as it can send and receive tweets.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway President & CEO Jeff Belskus Turning to Video Blogging

As an Indianapolis 500 blogger, I occasionally get news from the folks at Indy Car and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (although they’re part of the same family, Indy Car is the governing body of the sport of Indy Car racing, and the IMS is the track the Indianapolis 500 is held on).

Anyway, I got something yesterday that caught my professional eye: the IMS President & CEO Jeff Belskus is going to start video blogging as a way to reach Indy 500 fans.Screenshot of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Blog

This is a rather bold step for the venerable institution, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011. I mean, it wasn’t until 2009 that they invited bloggers to the media center (giving some of us the recognition and confirmation that what we do is still journalism, even if it’s niche journalism or citizen journalism).

Fans are asked to post any questions, comments, or ideas for Belskus (along with their name and hometown) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway blog.

While Belskus probably won’t do the customized Old Spice Guy YouTube videos, which included a pretty damn awesome marriage proposal — although if he did, I would become a lifelong fan of Jeff Belskus — I can see him doing shout outs to fans who took the time to ask a question. This kind of personalization can only further cement the relationship between fan and sport. Imagine how much more you would love your favorite team if they gave you special recognition, even once, during a game, match, or race.

Imagine hearing on a TV broadcast, “The Indianapolis Colts would like to personally thank Casey Mullins for the great comments and tweets during the game against the Giants last week. We appreciate your support.” How would you feel, especially if your name was Casey Mullins, if your favorite or even semi-favorite team did that for you? Wouldn’t you want to support the team even more?

Whether that’s the intention of Belskus and the IMS, that could be the side benefit: increased fan loyalty, increased participation in this growing communication channel, all for the price of taking 30 – 60 minutes to shoot 10 – 20 one-off videos with a Flip cam (or knowing the IMS and their technology, a kick-ass digital video camera that any self-respecting video production company would give their right arm to have).

So I’ll be interested to see what the IMS comes up with over the next few months with this experiment. I hope they can give it them time and energy a project like this deserves. The investment is minimal, since they already have the staff and expertise to do it, and the ROI should be huge.

Want to Improve Your Writing? Be Intentional

Years ago, I had a chance to hear one of the Philadelphia 76ers speak about how he became a professional ballplayer. Now, I couldn’t tell you who the guy was even if he walked up to me today. But one thing he said always stuck with me.

When he practiced shooting the ball, he was always intentional when he practiced. When he practiced his shooting, he didn’t screw around. He didn’t goof off, and he didn’t take shots he wouldn’t normally take. He wasn’t a sky-hook shooter, so he didn’t shoot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s famous shot. He didn’t do backward shots or trick shots. In short, every practice shot he took was a real shot.

“I don’t shoot these shots in a game, so I don’t waste my time practicing them.”

It’s the same for writing: if you want to get good at it, you have to be intentional with it. (Actually, this is true for getting good at anything, but I’m a writer, so I’ll stick with what I know.)

My Moleskine at Hubbard &CravensWhat does that mean? Writing is one of the most intentional activities we can do. It’s not like shooting trick shots in basketball, or going for a slow leisurely ride instead of a training ride on your bike. You’re either writing or you’re not, right?

Actually, no, you can even screw around when you’re writing. It’s in your attitude, rather than your subject matter. It’s reading when you should be writing (and no, “I’m doing research” doesn’t count). You can be just as intentional writing an email as you are a novel, or writing a comedy sketch as you are a marketing piece. It doesn’t matter where, when, or how you do it. Chris Brogan will write wherever he can find the time. And I carry my laptop and a Moleskine wherever I go.

How do I write with intention?

When I’m writing, I always have three questions in the back of my mind.

  • Is that the best word I can use? Is this conveying the right impact, drama, or humor? Dave Barry would take hours to write a single humor column, sometimes struggling with choosing which word carried the best impact for a joke. I’ll sometimes hit Thesaurus.com to find a good word.
  • Did I set this up for the best possible impact? In humor, setup is crucial for a joke to be funny. You can have the best punchline in the world, but if you tank the setup, the whole joke fails. It’s true for every other kind of writing too. This blog post, a marketing brochure, a speech, anything. If you want to have impact, you have to set the reader up for it.
  • How can I make this better? I edit everything. Even my emails get edited before I send them out. But I’m not always looking for punctuation errors or typos. I’m looking to make sure I’m satisfied with everything I’ve written. It usually works best if I can leave something for a couple hours, overnight is even better, and a week is a rare luxury. I have even edited some of my humor blog posts six months after I published them.

Becoming a good writer doesn’t mean taking all kinds of classes, or writing in your very special notebook with your very special pen in your very favorite coffee shop (just don’t tell my wife that; I use it as an excuse to get out of the house sometimes). It’s a matter of focusing on the task at hand and casting an eye at how you can improve. Not just the piece you’re writing, but future work you’re going to do.

Do you suck at dialog? Work on improving the dialog for the next piece you write. Then use that new level of competency as your starting point for the next time, and try to improve from that. Frankly, I used to suck at dialog, so I worked on it for months and even years. Now, unfortunately, my narration and scene description are less-than-acceptable, and I have to really focus on those.

But by writing my narration with my three questions, I’ll be able to improve my descriptions, so I can spend less time writing and more time sitting on a beach, drinking little umbrella drinks, served by. . . some kind of. . . woman wearing a dress that she bought at one of those. . . dress selling places.

Dammit!

Want to Make Your Writing More Vivid? Use Metaphors

If you want to add some life to your writing, to give it breath and a heartbeat, use metaphors. They’re the lifeblood of any vibrant, vivid writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

I’ve been using metaphors in my writing with great success over the last several years. It marks a significant improvement in the quality of my writing, and I’ve garnered more and better opportunities. Whether there’s a connection between the two, I don’t know.

I’m a big fan of metaphors, and I like them better than similes. From the Greek, metaphora means to transfer or to carry over. It basically carries a comparison from one idea or item to another.

There is one difference between metaphors and similes: similes use the words like or as in them, metaphors do not.

Similes

  • Life is like a box of chocolates. (Forrest Gump
  • There was a great shout like the roaring of an airplane.
  • Similes are like metaphors, but only weaker.

Metaphors

I don’t like similes. They’re weak. They’re the pencil-necked milksop of literary devices. They say things are similar, but not quite that item. Life is like a box of chocolates, but not really.

Take a look at the last metaphor example: “Men’s words are bullets.” That’s a powerful phrase. It doesn’t say they’re like bullets, that they remind people of bullets, or “words can hurt people sort of like bullets can hurt people.” That’s just smarmy, wishy-washy pap.

“Men’s words are bullets,” on the other hand, makes you feel the the emotional damage that can be done by words, feeling the piercing, crashing power of a bullet fired from a large gun.

If you want to make your writing more powerful and add more life to your words, sprinkle some metaphors into your articles and watch what they’ll do for you.