In this post we will be dealing with the second and third components of the CAPA model, which are attention and positive affect. As you can imagine, if your message is going to be persuasive, it needs to gain their attention first. Think about it for a second… Which audience do you think would be more palatable: One that is hanging on your every word, or one that is yawning and looking at their watches. Now your content and subject matter is a constant. Although you can indeed make changes in the ways in which it is presented, it “is what it is.” In other words, a presentation about life insurance can only be made so exciting at the end of the day. With that being said, you can maximize it’s potential for gaining your audience’s attention by varying the way in which it is presented. So, let’s take a look at some ways in which this can be accomplished:
- Be careful not to dwell on a specific subject too long. A study performed at the Helsinki Institute shows us that an average adult displays approximately 4 – 8 second bursts of attention before a correction occurs. Now I am not suggesting that you only talk in 4 – 8 second increments, but try to keep your talking to 30 second bursts. This is accomplished by maintain shorter points or using smaller bits of information.
- Use questions to keep the audience engaged in the material. This ties into their attention span and is a great mechanism to keep them interested.
- Be as poignant with the information your presenting as possible. What I mean by this is that you should make it “hit home” with your audience. If you are talking about life insurance to a group that is in their 30′s to 40′s, you should be talking about benefits that pertain to the surviving family, as opposed to funeral costs and retirement.
- Speak to your demographic by using their “language.” This is quite simple, using verbiage and content that is generally in line with your demographic will go a long way toward “speaking” to them at a subconscious level. It will be considerably more digestible and as a result keep their attention.
- Now I do realize that the content is a steady, but if possible use specific content components that are organically interesting to your audience. If not, try to present it in a way that can make it more interesting, such as applying the information to something that would be of interest to them.
- Use pictures or video if at possible during your presentation. As you can well imagine, we receive more stimulation from visual information than all others.
Ok, now that you have their attention, you need to focus on creating positive affect. What is positive affect? Well, at a basic level this refers to positive feelings that are associated with a stimulus. Now aside from the obvious advantages that are afforded us when we can make people feel good, there is another more direct reason to create this. In short, decisions about information are made based on the affect associate with the information. The act of persuasion is based on influencing decisions, isn’t it? So if you are going to direct your groups decision making, you will need to create positive affect toward your content. If you are able to create positive affect in your audience with your presentation, you will exponentially increase the chances of winning them over. So what can you do to accomplish this? Here are some suggestions:
- Use stories that represent positively valenced emotion – Robert Plutchik’s Psychoevolutionary Theory states that there are 8 basic (foundational) emotions that we are all born with. The positive ones are trust, joy, surprise and anticipation. The negatively valenced ones are anger, disgust, sadness and fear. In using stories that employ one or more of the positive ones, you can help to create positive affect.
- Use metaphoric stories that closely represent your audience’s demographic/position in life. Likewise, you can use characters that are analogous (at some level) to your audience.
- Use demographic-compatible humor ( judiciously) to directly create positive affect. Be careful when doing this however; refrain from political, religious, racial and sex-based humor.
- Used judiciously, ingratiation in the form of flattery can be good. Especially if it is based on truly exemplary or unique characteristics and attributes that your audience possesses. Be careful to use this only when extremely applicable and don’t dwell on it when presented, only mention in “passing.”
- Providing an overtly positive future forecast regarding your proposal is very powerful. This notion takes advantage of our psychological immune system, which helps us to focus on positive, optimistic predictions. Your forecast will provide fodder that can serve to “validate” any subconsciously generated optimism.
A very important part of creating positive affect lies in the way in which you look. I realize that some of you may not be so pleased to hear this, however research demonstrates this very aptly. Both social and evolutionary psychologies have determined that attraction plays a very large role in not only establishing credibility, but also in how much the audience likes the presenter. Now I am not suggesting that you get plastic surgery, however there are attributes that can easily be modified to help in one’s attractiveness. They are:
- Establishing symmetry and matching in the clothing that you are wearing. Ensure that the colors match and are generally neutral, that there are no wrinkles and it is congruent with the style of the people being presented to.
- Dress approximately 10% above the people you are presenting to. This will ensure a congruence between yourself and them in their subconscious mind.
- Ensure good hygiene, including hair (combed/brushed, parted on side or in the middle or in a ponytail), teeth whitened, facial hair (shaven), etc…
- Similarity in mannerisms such as speech, jargon and movement can help considerably as well.
- Portray confidence in your speech and mannerisms, which is a function of the above and the nonverbal displays you use. We will discuss this further in the next post when we talk about delivery of the presentation.
- To err is human, and being human is good… If you are too polished, this can make you “inaccessible” and can result in alienation from your audience. It is OK to fumble a few words or to not know every single fact and if necessary, you should force a few if it doesn’t come naturally. This will serve to further endear you (as the speaker) to your audience by being “one of them.”
Alright, now you have some great foundation to work with in gaining the attention of your audience and creating positive affect in them with your presentation. Unfortunately, your not out of the woods yet though. You still have write your presentation and deliver it. Not to worry though, we will deal with that in my next post. Please feel free to explore the rest of my blog The Communication Expert, or if I am online, please feel free to connect with me via Skype.
David J. Parnell | The Communication Expert