I wrote previously about how the average person can only focus on one thing for around 20 minutes before their mind shoots off in to a new direction.
However we’ve all been to see shows, comedians and even, dare I say it, ‘mind readers’ who’s acts last 45mins, 60mins or even more. So what ‘tricks’ to these people use to keep your attention, and why does time fly when you watch them?
A singer performs many songs, a magician many tricks, a pianist plays a range of pieces – this chunks down the time spent. So rather than watching a musician play one piece for 45 minutes – which would feel long to an audience – they have a range of shorter songs that engage us for a few minutes at a time.
One reason this is good for keeping people’s attention is that the audience realise that if they don’t enjoy this particular song, the song only lasts a few minutes and then there will be a totally new song being played.
I use this myself in my own show to keep attention, again through ‘variety’.
While one routine of my mind reading show might be fast paced and side-splitting funny, the next might be quite mysterious, curious and serious.
Singers will do fast songs, slower songs, emotional songs, fun songs, big songs and acoustic songs.
Each of these changes in pace again keep interest because our psychological states are being altered.
The opening of my show, for example is fast and funny, yet intelligent, curious and engaging. Then I change the pace to something really quite funny. The third piece of my show is more dramatic as I hypnotise someone and step right inside of their imagination.
Following this it’s a fast-paced, feel-ggod, uplifting piece where I memorise a deck of cards in less than 90 seconds that has people shouting out loud and having fun.
The final piece of show show is theatrical, it reminds you of things that have been happening throughout the show that you didn’t think were important, but – so now we have surprise and excitement at the climax of the show.
All of these emotions that entertainers and keynote speakers use allow them to grip audiences.
This is a personal favourite of mine.
Fundamentally our brains are question-answering machines. We look at the table and think ‘what colour is that? Does it look sturdy’ etc etc.
So if we are asked a question our minds must go and seek out the answer.
This is why curiosity is such a powerful thing.
Let’s use an example from my own act, as I know it better than anyone else’s.
At the start of the show there is a big question mark printed on a large card. I tell the audience to keep a close eye on it as it will be important later.
In the world of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) they call this an ‘Open Loop’ – that is we have posed some curiosity to the minds of people that will keep them watching to find out the solution or outcome.
In this case, everyone is hooked because they want to know what is on the other side of that card with the question mark on it.
Returning to the theme of variety that we discussed in #1 and #2, musicians create variety by also talking between songs, they also have staging, sets and lights that keep people interested.
When performing in theatre with my own show, for example, the whole show is a nice general lighting, but then at a key moment the stage goes blue and a single spotlight hits the volunteer and I on stage.
This changes how things look for the audience.
Add in a variety of background music that sets the mood and the audience once again enjoys the variety.
So there you have it. 4 different tricks of the trade to keeping people’s attention that have been used for years by professional performers.