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Four Lessons on Grabbing Attention from Some Old F@®t on the Beach!


Just because you are talking, you can’t assume that anyone is paying attention. Grab it in your marketing, meetings and communications with these four unexpected lessons. You have to shake things up!

Hit The Beach!

Four kids fearlessly hit the beach. Three 12-year-olds and a 7-year-old were braving the wild waves with foam body boards emblazoned with “Ride The Wild Surf!” Okay, the waves on the Georgia coast aren’t anywhere as legendary as the Banzai Pipeline, but they were great for the first day of vacation.

My job was to stand “Daddy Duty,” count heads and herd the kids so I could keep an eye on everyone. As every parent knows, getting kids to pay attention in even the best environment is a challenge. When you are competing with the Atlantic Ocean, it is nearly impossible. First I bellowed. Soon I was doing my imitation of a windmill and screaming to get some reluctant reaction. Looking around, I saw four or five other sets of parents joining the screaming chorus of frustration.

A Big, Ugly Towel

Out of desperation, I snatched up an orange-and-yellow beach towel with a particularly hideous floral pattern you only see in coastal fashions and in motel drapes. Swooping it over my head – I waved it wildly!

The surfers stopped, actually paid attention and then moved to where I pointed. But … that was it. I was off the radar again. What happened?

Lesson #1 – You Have to Be Unpredictable

If you want to grab attention, you can’t do the same thing twice – you have to be unpredictable. Forget the idea of tradition or “that’s the way we do things here.” Why do you suppose last year’s fashions, products and technology go on sale? They aren’t perceived as new. You can’t be new more than once.

Prance Like Crazy

I’m not sure if it was the sun or if I had overdosed on SPF 50, but I spun that towel, twirled it and tossed it in the air with the gusto of a high school majorette. Imagine a guy with the rippled six-pack of Brad Pitt and the sexy, salt-and-pepper sophistication of George Clooney. Picture him on the beach in a swimsuit. Got it? Well, that wasn’t me!

The other parents were slowly moving their chairs a little farther down the beach and checking to see if they packed a can of Mace in with the Coppertone. The wild middle-aged man with the total lack of restraint pranced around, cavorting wildly and singing.

Every time my kids looked over, there was a new part of the act. I worked through a killer Beach Boys medley, a couple of old favorites from SpongeBob and even tossed in some dance moves I hadn’t attempted since the 1980s, for very obvious reasons. It was totally crazy.

But it worked.

Lesson #2 – Curiosity is an Attention Magnet

People can’t resist watching if you do things in different ways. Find new images, music, messages, techniques for presenting information – turn things upside down and make them wonder.

Here’s how it worked on the beach: Pretty soon, the parents stopped screaming for attention. Every kid in the water kept looking over to see what I’d do next. Instead of playing up and down the sand, they were watching that “crazy old man” and doing what I asked. They were too curious to ignore me.  Because I was intentionally inconsistent.

Lesson #3 – Consistency Is Not Your Friend

Of course, the irony is that, in business, we are told that consistency is a good thing. It’s a key point of value in products and politicians. We’re told there’s comfort in consistency because there are no surprises – there is a place for everything and everything in its place.

But just think for a second. Design, fonts, brand standards, signage and templates that are too consistent can blend into a color-coordinated blur. Imagine the concourse at your favorite airport. All the gate signs look the same, and you see people wandering, peering in puzzlement trying to find their planes. Nothing really stands out and demands attention.

If you have a choice between being effective or consistent … then you don’t really have a choice. Consistency is just a design tool. If you make it your objective, your work will be overlooked.

In communications, we all have one Get Out of Jail Free Card. It doesn’t matter what you’re communicating, you are unique to that target audience the first time, so they will listen, up to a point. But if you keep sending the same message in the same ways, you aren’t unique anymore. You’re just boring. So create a clear and distinct identity instead. That makes your value or the value of your product/service instantly recognized and identified. Grabbing attention can’t be passive. You have to work to engage people. But trust me: No one will notice if the color of the signage exactly matches the logo if people get where they want to go.

One More Point – Lesson #4 – Make Them Stop, Look and Think

We played with how to engage an audience in “How To Hook An Audience – Secrets of Engagement.” We learned that you engage people by making them care. If they don’t care, they will ignore you.  And the fact is, people don’t care about predictable – repetitious – regimented – standardized meetings, marketing or communications.

Here’s Your Homework

The next time you work on your event, marketing or communications, be prepared to do these things:

Make them stop, look and think.

Remember that it doesn’t have to look the same if it feels right and the audience can rely on it.

Don’t do things the same way you did them last time.

Don’t present the same ideas over and over and over.

Communicate with the audience’s imagination and not just with facts, logic and objectives.

Be distinctive, disruptive, conspicuous, obvious, noticeable and striking.

Catch The Attention Wave

To gain attention, to hold it, channel it, direct it and use it to deliver results, you cannot conform.

Get up. Get out, wave a gaudy, flowered beach towel and dance like Lady GaGa, but make them pay attention.

Meanwhile, Back at the Beach

After awhile, I got tired and looked around to see if those nice men with straightjackets were coming. I saw the scene had changed. It was like a Las Vegas floor show! The other parents were jumping around, singing and doing their own freestyle ballets. Their kids weren’t watching me. They were tuned in on their own Moms and Dads. They were 100% focused!

The tide changed and my little band of surfers trudged their way toward the house. As we walked past, other kids and parents waved, smiled and then did something that really surprised me. They clapped… applauded. Come to think of it, it was the only time in my life I ever received a standing ovation. All I did was ignore conformity, consistency and all inhibitions.

Hey, I caught their attention!

If you want to know more about attracting attention and energizing your audiences just click on CONTACT US and get in touch.

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Never Exceed Expectations – It’s A Losing Play

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About the Author
Andy Johnston is a multi-faceted communication professional who has a comfortable way of working with people. Andy is an Emmy Award winning communicator known for his energy, humor, creativity and his unique ability to discover the key results that must be generated – and then to develop ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. He has broad experience in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing, and events. One of the things Andy says often is, “How can we make it better?”
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