It’s hard to grow your business and increase sales if you can’t get anybody’s attention.

Not getting people to listen is a serious problem and it can affect all aspects of your life and business.

In business team meetings, do your employees and coworkers distract themselves by looking at their phones while covering their yawns?

When you give a sales pitch, are your customers more preoccupied with their next meeting than what you have to say?

Do your emails, whether they are internal or customer-facing go unopened, unread, and unanswered?

When you give a presentation, is your audience heads down, glued to their phone?

It’s frustrating being ignored, right?

But it’s not surprising. Now more than ever our attention is fractured.

The average person sees anywhere between 6,000 – 10,000 ads a day and receives more than 100 emails each day. Add on text messages, notifications, alerts, pings, and family and friends it’s safe to say our attention is smackdab in the middle of an attention-grabbing tug of war.

Great, so with all that information, there’s no hope of getting people to listen to what you have to say, right?

Not so fast…the solution to your problem is well, a problem.

If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, you must start with a problem that punches them in the gut (not literally of course, we don’t want you getting thrown in lockup).

Since our brain is exposed to so many messages, alerts, and distractions every second of the day, it’s filtering nearly everything out. The few things that get by our filtering mechanism are the things that help us survive and thrive.

If what you have to say doesn’t help somebody survive and thrive, you’re getting tuned out.  And if you don’t communicate how you can help your audience overcome their problem in the first few seconds, you’ve lost your audience’s attention and that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because the important things you have to say that could help people in their lives, businesses, work, and careers are going unheard.

But if you crack the code and are able to communicate in such a way that grabs people’s attention, their ears will perk up and they’ll be sitting on the edge of their seats.

When you start a speech with a problem that your audience knows and feels, they’ll be totally present, engaged, and nodding their heads in approval.

Picture a team meeting where your employees and coworkers are invested and participating and not just trying to keep their eyes open.

Or imagine being able to create marketing collateral that actually gets a response from your target audience.

That level of attention only happens when you clearly state a problem that your audience is facing. No matter the form of communication, if you can communicate the problem your audience and customers have clearly, you’ll increase sales.


All Great Communicators Start With A Problem

Just the other night I decided to watch the movie 1917.

From the opening scene, I was in.  Hook, line, and sinker.

Why?  Because the screenwriters didn’t waste any time before they hit me over the head with an enormous problem.

It’s World War I and British Lance Corporals Will Schofield and Tom Blake are ordered to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the second battalion to call off an attack.

The problem is, to get to the second battalion, Schofield and Blake have to cross no man’s land, (the insanely dangerous piece of land between the British and German trenches) through a war-torn, German-occupied town, and finally, if they’re lucky to make it through, to the front lines where their colonel is positioned.

Oh, and one more thing, they only have a day to deliver the message because if they don’t, 1,600 British soldiers will be caught in a German trap, including Tom Blake’s brother who is a Lieutenant with the second battalion.

Talk about suspense.  Talk about a serious problem.

That’s how you get your audience’s attention.  You open with a problem that grabs them by the collar and says “you’re gonna want to watch this.”

It’s not just 1917 though, all great movies and all great stories start immediately with a clearly defined problem that hooks the audience.

Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption is sentenced to life in prison, wrongly accused of the murder of his wife and her lover.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars has to save the galaxy from being ruled by the oppressive and supremely evil Galactic Empire.

Two jobless, hapless dopes, Harry and Lloyd have to travel cross-country to return a lost briefcase to a woman they’ve fallen in love with in Dumb and Dumber and Austin Powers has lost his mojo and needs to find a way to stop Dr. Evil from destroying the planet.

All of these Oscar-worthy films and high-brow works of art (Dumb and Dumber and Austin Powers I’m looking at you) have clearly stated problems that draw the audience in from the beginning and it’s exactly what you need to do in your communications to get the most important people in your life and in business to pay attention.


The 3 Keys To An Attention-Grabbing Problem That Increases Sales

Before we go much further, it’s important to know there’s a limit to using a problem to get people’s attention.

If you overstate the problem or use a problem only to get attention, you’re crying wolf and being melodramatic.

Author of Building a Storybrand, Donald Miller makes the analogy of a problem being like a pinch of salt in a recipe for bread.  You need just a pinch. If you use too much salt in your bread, it will leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth.

Ok, so we know that stating a problem is a key ingredient in getting people to pay attention, but how do you actually state a problem that will resonate with your audience?

All great attention-grabbing problems have three things: they are clearly defined, they define the stakes involved for the audience, and they are presented immediately.


1. An Attention-Grabbing Problem Is Clearly Defined

Why so many people go unheard and ignored is because the messages they are trying to convey don’t have a clearly defined problem or they identify too many problems that muddy the water.

Take a look again at the movie examples from above. Each one has one clearly defined problem that drives the story forward, not multiple problems. When it comes to great stories and great communication, layering on more problems is not better. In fact, it’s confusing and if your audience is confused, you’ll lose them.

In 1917, two soldiers need to deliver a message to a commanding officer while trying to not get killed. It’s not two soldiers need to deliver a time-sensitive message to a commanding officer and find an award-winning recipe for a meat stew for the all battalion cookoff later in the week – because that’s a common occurrence in the barracks, right?

Luke Skywalker has to save the galaxy from destruction, not he has to save the galaxy from destruction and find a dapper tux for the inter-planetary ball he’ll be attending in two nights.

Side note – I’ll see you at the all battalion, galactic cookoff. I’ll be the guy wearing a dapper tux.

Great stories and great communication all focus on one problem.


2. An Attention-Grabbing Problem Has Clearly Defined Stakes

Once you’ve defined the one clear problem your audience is facing that speaks to them directly, you must define the stakes.

By stakes I mean what does your audience have to lose?

For example, if your customer doesn’t pay attention to your sales pitch, what will he lose?

Will he lose clients, savings, or his employees to his competitors?  The point is, the problem has to be obvious, tangible, and quantifiable.

In 1917 the stakes are 1,600 British lives.

In Star Wars, freedom of the galaxy is at stake.

It’s not enough to just have a problem, we all have a million problems, but the ones that grab our attention are the ones that have the most to lose.


3. An Attention-Grabbing Problem Must Be Presented Immediately

Last but not least, every attention-worthy problem should be presented immediately.

As the old saying goes, brevity is the soul of wit. But brevity is not just for humor. Especially in today’s world where everything is at the click of a button and on-demand, brevity is not a nice to have, it’s a must.

When I turned on 1917, it didn’t take 30 minutes to get into the story. It took 30 seconds to get into the problem.

Had they spent a lot of time diving into character backstories I wouldn’t be talking about 1917 right now, I would be trying to figure out how to refund an on-demand movie purchase because the movie was so dang boring.

This is where so many people make a huge mistake. In speeches, presentations, emails, company meetings, or many other scenarios, people spend too much time building up to the problem.

Stop building up and start hitting people with your problem.

Don’t waste the first five slides of a ten slide presentation on context. Especially if you’re dealing with high-level executives or customers with buying power, they want to know the problem now, or else the amount of time you’re wasting will become the problem they have.


How To Increase Sales By Defining A Problem

It doesn’t matter what the setting is, business or personal, if you want someone to pay attention, start with a problem.

If you want engaging team meetings, don’t do what most people do by recapping the meeting from last week’s meeting which was a recap of the meeting from before…oh my gosh, I almost fell asleep at the keyboard just thinking about that meeting.  Ok…I’m back with it.

If you want truly engaging team meetings, pose a problem as a question to the team, state a possible solution, and solicit ideas and thoughts from the team. I guarantee your meetings will be more impactful if you do this.

If you want to be cheered off stage at your next industry event, Ted talk, or any other speaking function, open with a bang. Your first slide should hit your audience over the head with the problem they are experiencing. Better yet, if you can paint a picture in their minds of the problem they are experiencing, they’ll be on the edge of their seats.

In your brand messaging, define the problem you solve, state it clearly to your customers, and they’ll listen.

In your product marketing, don’t talk about the technical features of your product, talk about the problems your product solves in your customer’s life.

When you talk about how your brand or product can help your customer overcome the problem in their life, you’ll get their attention and you’ll increase sales.

All big-name brands do this and do it well. It’s why they are so well known.

Insurance agencies like Statefarm solve the problem of losing everything in a natural disaster by providing coverage.

5-hour energy solves the problem of being tired.

Rolex solves the problem of status and unsophisticated style.

No matter what it is, start with a problem.

In your email marketing, your headlines should be built around a problem. For example, if I were to send an email out for this particular post, the headline of my email could be, “Why nobody is listening to what you have to say”.

In your Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube ads, open with a problem. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention on these platforms so if you don’t lead with a problem that’s holding them back from surviving and thriving, they’re scrolling through.

Pretty much in any form of communication, if you start with your customer’s problem, you’ll get a much better response.

Need help identifying your audience’s problem?  Check out this list of 18 questions.



If you’re tired of being ignored, tired of distracted employees, tired of wasting money on marketing that doesn’t work, or just fed up with your customers not listening to what you have to say, then you must identify your audience’s problem.

When you’re able to identify a problem your audience has and communicate it clearly and quickly, you’ll get a better response.

If you run a business, your team will pay attention and be on the same page. Your marketing will start to work, your customers will listen, and you’ll increase your sales.

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