Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.
-William Arthur Ward
Compelling speakers have a knack for making their audiences curious. By igniting interest in this way, presenters engage their audiences and, thus, more easily bring them along the journey. Now research conducted at UC Davis has demonstrated that catalyzing curiosity not only increases the desire to learn new information, but also increases the likelihood of remembering that information. But even more surprising, for up to 24 hours after the initial curiosity invoking experience, participants in Dr. Matthias Gruber’s research learned and retained unrelated information. Dr. Gruber stated, “curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it.”
It appears that curiosity serves to intrinsically motivate people to learn and understand what they don’t know. Dan and Chip Heath in their must read book Made to Stick refer to this motivation to learn as the “gap theory” of knowledge – we strive to fill the gaps in what we know. Evidence from fMRI measures indicates that curiosity stimulates brain circuitry for learning, memory, and reward. This trifecta of neuro-stimulation explains why learning what we are curious about feels good and is memorable.
As a presenter, you can leverage these findings to actively engage your audience and help them learn and remember. Here are three techniques to catalyze curiosity in your audience:
Ask your audience “what if?”
By getting your audience to think about or imagine a possibility, you make them curious about that potential outcome or direction. A client of mine leveraged this technique expertly when he started his productivity software pitch by asking prospects to imagine what they would do with an extra hour in every day.
Try questions like: What if? Imagine what it would be like if? Can you believe that?
Rephrase information as questions
Many presenters relay lots of information to their audiences in a declarative way, and while some of this information will no doubt invoke interest, you can get your audience even more curious by reframing facts as questions. Instead of claiming “my plan will help our company expand in Europe,” ask “how can we best expand in Europe?” Avoid just stating data (e.g., “we saved $1M dollars.”), and reframe data as a question (e.g., “How did we save $1M?).
Interrupt a story you are telling
Most speakers know that telling a story is a powerful way to make a point, but an even more useful tool for getting your audience curious is to interrupt your story – build suspense and curiosity by taking a break before you end your story. A student of mine did a masterful job of this when he was presenting the most useful advice he had ever received. He began by telling us of a harrowing event from his childhood, and right before the part where he was to let us know how it turned out, he said “before I tell you how things ended, let me first share with you…”. This pause had all of us fully engaged in what he was saying.
Curiosity serves a powerful means for you to engage your audience and help them learn and remember what it is you are trying to convey. Catalyze curiosity in your audience so you can be a compelling and connected communicator.