Curiosity, surprise and fear.
We don’t pay attention to boring things. We pay attention to things that create an emotional response. This is because the brain releases the attention hormone – dopamine, which leads to increased memory and information processing. Psychologist John Medina believes that dopamine works like a post-it note saying, “Remember this!”
We’re naturally curious, so if you ask the audience a question or give them a puzzle or problem to solve, it tends to hook them.
Surprise is nature’s way of telling us that all is not as we expected and we need to pay attention. So an unusual statistic is a highly effective way of making the audience think.
People also pay particular attention to things when they’re afraid. But there is a danger. If people get too scared, it can paralyse them. So, you can use fear by pointing out a problem, but you do need to make sure that your solution to the problem is extremely credible. If it isn’t, they’ll just feel overwhelmed by the problem you outlined. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why global warming has so far not provoked much of a popular reaction – it seems such a massive issue that it’s maybe easier to deny the problem or to think there’s nothing anyone can do about it.