The Myth of the Short Attention Span
by Robin Sacks
One of the questions I often get as a public speaking coach is, "How can I engage my audience better since they have shorter and shorter attention spans?"
Like many things, we often believe the other person is the challenge. In this instance, your belief that people seem to have 'shorter attention spans' is what is getting in your way - not the fact that you may not be that interesting to listen to as a presenter. ;)
Think about it...
When you are listening to something that is not interesting to you, don't you have a short attention span?
When you are watching something that's boring, don't you have a short attention span?
When you are asked or told to do something that you don't see the value in spending time doing, don't you have a short attention span?
Did you notice the running theme in those examples?
It had nothing to do with attention spans. It had to do with either the topic or the presenter NOT being interesting to listen to or watch OR there being no clear understanding of WHY paying attention can benefit you. When things are interesting to us, they hold our attention longer.
As a speaker, whether you are having a one-on-one conversation, talking to a small group in a conference room, or speaking to a crowd of 1,000, it is your job to be...well...interesting to listen to! If you are not, your listeners will tune out.
There is a difference between communication and effective communicaiton, and learning the difference can suddenly make people have longer attention spans around you.
It is the difference between playing rec ball and playing in the major leagues. Communication is something everyone can do, every day. But effective communication is a skill that is learned, applied, and honed consistently that puts you at a different level. The difference between the two is what keeps people engaged or not.
One of the ways to become more effective in your communication is to get better at storytelling. For example, if you have a presentation at work, don't just put the spreadsheet up and show people the numbers from last quarter; get clear on what impact those numbers have and bring them to life! You might have had a "23% decrease last quarter...but what does that mean?
In other words, you can say, "We had a 23% decrease last quarter" OR you can say, "Over the past three years, we have had monthly increases as high as 79% and as low as 2%. If you looked at that on a graph, it would look like an EKG of a healthy person. It goes up and down, up and down...but it never flatlines. That's the nature of our business. So what does a 23% decrease mean in the grand scheme of things? That would be like if our long-time customer Bob - you all know Bob - didn't put any orders in for a full month. That is the equivalent to a 23% decrease."
Which made the message more clear? Which helped you to see what I was talking about? Which held your attention more?
Average communicators show you the numbers; effective communicators paint pictures and bring those numbers to life so you can not only hear the words, but also see the pictures they generate and feel the impact.
That makes a big difference in whether people have short attention spans around you or not.
Are you helping them to understand and see what you are saying or just saying the words? One will engage them, the other will not.
If you just want people to have the information, send them an email. If you want to make sure they are clear on exactly what that information means, help them to see and feel that by taking advantage of the human side of communication - bring it to life by explaining it through and example or story. When you do this, you will suddenly find that your listeners' attention spans get longer.