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by Chris Bashinelli | June 3, 2015

Chris Bashinelli"It's got to be funny to you. If you don't laugh, they're never gonna laugh." – Mel Brooks
 
We live in a world that is absolutely flooded with content from every angle. It doesn't matter if you're giving a speech, creating a video for YouTube or sending an email to a potential buyer -- you've got to engage your audience at their core. Following are five helpful keys I've found to captivate someone's attention, and keep it.
 
I love the line by Mel Brooks because it helps us start with the person we know best -- ourselves. This simple litmus test is a wonderful checkpoint to constantly return to. If we find the sentence in our email, the scene in our movie or the line in our speech engaging, then we can gauge whether or not the audience will. If we don't find it appealing, it's time to try something new. The only way we'll ever determine what's best is by trying a plethora of material until we see what sticks. Hence, the more we do, the better we tend to get at things.
 
1. Cold open: Grab their attention
A "cold open" is the very first thing that people see in your presentation or film, or read in your email. It can be a startling moment, a high-energy or out-of-context phrase, so long as it piques people's curiosity and makes them want to see or read more. I love using cold opens that hint at a later-to-come theme, which forces people to stay tuned in order to figure out what happened in the first few moments of the presentation. Many messages do not include a cold open, but used correctly it is a powerful means for gaining people's attention.

In my first PBS-TV show, our cold open was a 15-second clip of me biting into a raw buffalo liver and screaming out loud. People had no clue what was happening, but they needed to watch the film in order to find out.
 
2. Establish credibility: Why should I listen to you?
After you've gotten people's attention, it's helpful to give them a good reason to listen to you. What makes you an expert on the topic at hand? The answer to this could be a measurable credit such as a Ph.D. in the subject, or in many cases it could be having a personal connection with the subject. If you're raising money for a particular cause, for example, it is helpful to know that you've had a direct experience with that cause. Credibility doesn't need to come in the form of a doctorate; in can be based on palpable passion.

3. Flesh it out  
Be clear about what you are doing on the stage, in the film or in that email. It's also important to hint at number 5 below, the action step. Do this in as few words as possible. (Note: Numbers 2 and 3 of the Code can be interchangeable, depending on which you feel is stronger to lead with.)

4. Provide facts, deliverables, added value
This is an extension of number 3. Here's where you can really build a case for number 5. You have the chance to go into detail about the reasons why your argument is strong. In the example of writing an email to raise funds for a particular mission, be clear about how many people the mission will help and the ultimate impact it will have.

5. Call to action
Be very clear about what you are asking people for or what your call to action is. You've (hopefully) gotten everyone very engaged with your cold open, credibility, and detailed explanation of what you're doing and why, and now is your chance to present a clear call to action. If you don't include number 5, all of the previous steps might be a waste. In the case of my speeches, I make sure to include a clear call to action, which is that we take the needs of the person sitting right next to us and place them on an equal or greater pedestal then our own.

Chris Bashinelli is an actor, activist, TV host and speaker. As host of the internationally recognized series Bridge the Gap, he traverses the globe to experience life in others' shoes. He is the keynote speaker, sponsored by Goodman Speakers Bureau, for the upcoming M&C Global Interact, June 7-10 in Los Cabos.