We have found ourselves in the age of shortened attention spans. Between the dopamine hits we get throughout the day from social media and a blurred work/life balance, our minds are now conditioned to crave entertainment and engagement. Even as we sat down to write this article, we personally experienced this abbreviated focus first-hand. Coleman checked his phone twice, played fetch with the dog, and sang along with Alexa — we hadn’t even finished the first paragraph. While we both care deeply about putting words on paper to share with our learning community, finding the dedicated focus doesn’t come easily.

So that begs the question — if we as practitioners struggle with true engagement, how can we expect our learners and employees to give us their undivided attention?

Our job as learning professionals is to grab someone’s attention in these fleeting moments to teach, inspire or support them. Before they move on to the next thing, we need to accomplish these not-so-small tasks. How do we do this?

Capturing an audience’s attention comes down to communication. The way we share our message makes all the difference. There are many things that learning professionals can learn from other industries like marketing and sports entertainment about how to tell a story with a small gimmick to capture attention. If we can harness our audience’s attention through connection and curiosity, think about how much more time they would spend engaging in our content. Let’s explore the concepts of connection and curiosity. We’ll share our ideas on how to craft creative messaging and use storytelling to engage our audiences in our learning programs. Our audience wants to feel inspired and turn that into the motivation to take action. Crafting the right message at the right time can help them do just that.

Human Nature

Humans are curious by nature.

We take in a plethora of information through our five senses at all moments. At the same time, we ask ourselves questions like “What’s happening over there…” or “I wonder if…” This combination of physical connection and curiosity is the secret to engagement.

Our senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) are powerful things. Not only are we trying to understand the world around us with our senses, but we are also creating strong emotional connections as we interact with our environment. As learning professionals, you can use the five senses to your benefit to be more of a storyteller and influencer.

A Multisensory Experience

Here’s an example: Imagine for a moment a learning program you’re about to launch. Let’s say it’s a new tool and set of resources for managers to have great one-on-one conversations. You could choose to launch a learning program using a video meeting because at least you will be able to see their faces. That’s not only an expected experience, it’s one that only engages the sight and sound senses.

Try something different. Instead, what if you caught them off guard with a little gimmick and fun that used all five senses? Amp up your presentation and turn it into an experience. Add music to the welcome slide to welcome your audience. Send out a job aid, resource guide or swag that they can hold in their hands while you talk. Ask employees to bring their favorite coffee mug to the meeting.

It may feel extraneous to add so many levels of sensory interaction, but what you’re doing is cognitively significant. While our senses are not interdependent (e.g., you can see without hearing), when you double, triple or quadruple the senses engaged, that means your audience is that much more likely to make a connection to your experience. More information coming into their brains means that their neural network has more opportunities to find a connection. Connection equals action. Imagine your brain is like a firework display. When you use only one sense, it’s like there’s a sparkler in your brain; things are lit up, but only in a localized place. Now replace that sparkler with a firework finale. Things are lit up everywhere. Multisensory environments improve engagement.

Creating environments that entertain and excite audiences also tends to spark curiosity: “What will they do next?” Curiosity is the urge to explore something and triggers action. When we have curious employees, we have people who are likely to ask more questions, persist longer at difficult tasks and are willing to step outside their comfort zone. The more often an employee can be curious, the more often they will push themselves to do more and do better.

Let’s go back to our manager session. While often we think about a simple and direct line of communication to launch our learning programs because we know our audience is busy. Less is more. But, we challenge that thinking. Less is not more. More is more. Create some curiosity through teaser emails or messages that only trickle information to your audience. Send a snippet of the song you’re going to use in the presentation or hint at the swag coming their way. People hate to miss out on things. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a real thing and learning professionals can use that to drive participation.

Look at one of your upcoming programs and think about how you could create a fun and engaging campaign or experience that would connect to your audience’s senses. Step outside the box and think about other ways to reach your audience. Bring some flair and creativity into your program. Your learners will thank you.

Register for the June TICE to see Maggie Redling’s session, “The Art of Professional Wrestling: Become a Storytelling Champ”