Paying Attention | Bruce Turkel

Walking into a meeting, church or synagogue, or maybe a theater, I’m sure you reach into your pocket and turn off the volume on your phone. But because not everyone is as thoughtful and considerate as you, a phone invariably rings during the presentation. Sadly, that’s no surprise.
What always is a huge surprise is that a second phone rings a few minutes later. Didn’t the first interruption remind everyone else in the room to turn off their own phones? How is it possible that a phone will ring every few minutes throughout the same session?

I was listening to an entrepreneur talk about her new business and how she’s reaching out to men and women simultaneously. Over and over she explained how her perfect customer is not defined by sex and how her outreach has to consistently be gender agnostic. But when it came time for Q&A, the very first question she got was whether she’s marketing to just men or to both men and women?

Aren’t these people listening?

Gritting my teeth through these annoyingly common occurrences has led me to believe that in today’s digital, always-connected, 24/7 world, people are simply not paying attention. This is particularly troubling because I’m in the business of advertising, and speaking and pontificating about branding on television, so if I’m going to get my clients’ messages across I need people to watch and listen.

Case in point – this blog you’re reading is successful not when I write it but when you read it. If people aren’t paying attention, that means I could be yelling into a bottomless chasm just waiting for the occasional echo to stumble back to me. Like the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest, I make no sound.

Today’s digital communication comes jam-packed with metrics that tell us how many people clicked on our sites or received our emails, but those metrics don’t tell us if anyone is actually paying attention. It’s only when people reply to our posts – either online or in person – that we have any idea if they actually read what we wrote.

Last May I spoke at TEDx and a few months later they published my talk on their site. I did nothing to promote it and a few months later it had attracted about 1,800 views. Last week I found out that TED had selected my video as their Editor’s Pick Of The Week, and already the watch list has increased to over 4,000. But before you act impressed, you should know that there are videos with millions of views out there.

Of course, view counts don’t mean people actually paid attention to the videos – they only mean people clicked on them. In fact, because I want to increase my viewership numbers I am shamelessly asking you to click on my video link. Just like The Beatles sang, “Dear sir or madam would you read my book, it took me years to write, would you take a look?” my presentation also took me weeks of writing and at least twice that much time rehearsing, and I’d love it if you’d watch and enjoy it. But you can’t do that until you first click on it.

What happens after you click on the link is where the magic lives – perhaps you’ll like the video so much you’ll forward it to others or tweet the link or post it on Facebook or Google+. Maybe you’ll take a point or two that I discussed and actually use it to increase your brand value. Maybe someone you send it to will also pick up a great idea they can put to work for them. And maybe, just maybe, just like singing “Alice’s Restaurant,” we’ll start a movement.

Alices-Restaurant-FINAL“… the only reason I’m singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in say, ‘Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.’ And walk out.

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony… they won’t take either of them. And if three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? And friends they may think it’s a movement.”

The point is that while there’s a world of potential bubbling under every opportunity to tune in, nothing will happen until we actually do pay attention. Otherwise the content of my TED talk (c’mon, have you clicked on it yet?) – and everyone else’s – along with all the wisdom in unread books, unheard lectures, unwatched movies, unviewed art, unlistened to music, and unheard sermons, will lie as fallow as unsewn seeds.

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