Surprise twists wake us up.

The brain is often in standby modus

With all the information coming at us, the brain needs to be efficient in dealing with this overload of stimuli. So it makes sense that the brain goes into standby modus a lot of the time, once it figures out there is no danger or something of interest. To counteract this natural process, you want to offer the audience (and their brains) - a surprise, some unexpected turn of events or detail that pulls the brain back to alert modus: "ah, I should keep listening this is getting interesting".


  • violates expectations.
  • generates interest and curiosity. 
Photo credit: Miranda Wipperfurth

Photo credit: Miranda Wipperfurth

How to get your audience to listen?

Flight attendants have a real challenge to get passengers to listen. The following fight safety announcement from Karen Wood is solved creatively with unexpectedness:

If I could have your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.

And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removable window exits, and two aft exit doors. The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle.

Made ya look!
— from "Made To Stick" (pages 63-64) by Chip and Dan Heath