Making Friends in Seven Seconds or Less

By: Duncan Robinson

In a media saturated world there is a war for people’s attention. I’m in radio, it means that I have an audience that is not captive, they can change the radio station with a simple click of the button.

People’s attention is divided, most people have the radio on as background noise. They are listening with an agenda, one that I am unaware about. They are also engaged listeners right up until the moment they aren’t. It means amongst a busy morning routine I’m charged with the audacious challenge of figuring out a way to find cut-through to get them to listen.

That isn’t the hard thing, figuring out engaging radio is easy. It’s the amount of time I have to do it, that is the really alarming thing. Tracy Johnson is a famous Radio Consultant, well known in the industry. He wrote an article that we have 7 seconds to hook someone’s attention in the world of radio.

“Competition for listener attention is intense. And science proves that attention spans are shorter than ever. It’s true. Consider that in 2000, the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds. It has dropped by 33% since then, to 8 seconds.”

At 8 seconds someone will bounce to a different radio station if they don’t feel a connection. I have 7 seconds to hook someone and keep them otherwise they are gone.

Seven seconds is roughly the time it took to read those last two sentences.

So how do you make friends in seven seconds or less. I think there are a couple of strategies but these are the ones that I think lead to lasting relationships. Environment, Authenticity, Vulnerability, Humour and Selflessness. Nail these and people will give you a window.

One of the greatest strengths of radio is you are placed in the private sanctuary of the individual. A solitary car ride with the radio on typically means a person’s guard is down. They can snort laugh without fear; you fart in a car alone; talk to yourself out loud in the car alone. Lots of the masks and walls that we might throw up with people around aren’t there. This means that Radio is received in your most private and trust space. People listen, without pretense. In their comfortable space and so the environment whilst it might be busy and noisy is one where engaging content can give cut-through to a deep emotional connection.

I love getting messages that someone snorted milk out their nose when I did a bit on air, it’s the highest form of praise. It also tells me that the person likes me enough to share that truth with me, and that I had cut-through the noise of life to create a connection. Being in that environment also assumes that I’ll treat it with trust. You don’t let someone into your private sanctuary to have the poop on the carpet, which means I try and treat that opportunity with some degree of respect. If I break that trust I won’t be allowed back in. Which leads me to the next idea.

Authenticity, is a wild and vast word that means whatever the heck I want it to mean. Except it doesn’t. People can smell a fake laugh; a disingenuous story; a manufactured feeling or response. That reek of insincerity is costly, people switch off to that. Authenticity requires us to actually respond truthfully. If the story isn’t funny don’t laugh. It’s really hard to do this all the time, but people can sense when you are manufacturing an emotion that isn’t natural. Being yourself on air actually requires you to express genuine feeling and emotions. Listeners are smart and know an authentic conversation.

Vulnerability is huge, learning to be open and honest about deeper issues can be costly, but they build insane connections with listeners. People respect vulnerability, the ability for us to be honest with pain, love, death, failure, depression and anxiety is so important. I’m not talking about being an open book, but I am suggesting the ability to share ‘costly’ stories is important.

I’m honest about depression and anxiety on air and how that affects me, not all the time. When the moment is right, and we need to have a serious conversation I’ll switch gears a share a deeply personal story, and hopefully a resolution, which communicates vulnerability. People lean in at those stories, do you know why? Because everyone is at one stage or another of dealing with those issues.

Humour is disarming, walls are up, humour brings them down. Think you know where something is going, humour shatters the pretense. Acting cool, humour makes you jiggle like a wild man. Humour can be a reprieve to the stresses of life. It is a warm summers day in the middle of winter. It is the perfect escape delivered at the most unexpected of times.

Humour is a little slice of joy and happiness served up at the most perfect and unexpected time. Not everyone likes your humour, not every joke I tell lands with everyone. Yet time and again I hear of the joy people get when I do something funny on air. In the busy moments, the stressful ones and the sad ones, people lean in hoping for an escape. Humour is so critical for cut-through.

Selflessness, the listener is essential. You can’t sell advertising without people listening which means you at some very base level need to make them the focal point. People need to feel that can enter into the story, be a part of the community, feel like they were part of a moment. Selflessness is the suggestion that there is something bigger at word that moves beyond me and becomes about the community.

My goal is to bring some joy into the listeners life wherever they are. I’m hoping that I am walking through life with a lightness and a freedom that is contagious. Listeners can be a part of the journey and build something that is much bigger than me.

I also want to talk about serious stuff seriously, with the same vision that the community of listeners can weave themselves into the narrative. My stories are funniest, when others can weave and become part of the narrative. We are given a really profound platform and when we leverage it solely for personal gain and fame people sense that. Why would I ever want to listen to a show just about me? A show is better when there is a larger community narrative.

That seems like a huge amount of stuff to condense into seven seconds. But I can have a vulnerable, humorous story that is relatable quickly. I can be authentic simply. In every bit that I’m crafting, even in the flights-of-fancy moment I’m thinking of ways that can bring joy. When that happens, I think people lean in, connect and want to build a relationship. People need to feel included, part of something special and connected to something real.

Article supplied with thanks to Duncan Robinson.

About the Author: Duncan Robinson is a radio host, pastor, husband and father of two.

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