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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Short Span of Attention? Who, Me? What Did You Say?

The first time I lectured at a Business School, we were in a first floor room with a window overlooking the main road.  I was standing with my back to the window and in full flow, when I suddenly realised that I had lost them.  They were all looking either through me or past me and whatever I was saying was wasting my sweetness on the desert air.

I looked round and, lo and behold, outside the window was the sight of the top deck of a bus - with people on it!  Far more exciting than my apparently rather turgid presentation.

Taking the theme a stage further, I visited my son in San Diego to find that he had a new TV with a vast number of channels which was a fascinating innovation, coming as I did from four or five free channels in the UK.  However, he spent a great deal of time zapping from channel to channel on the remote and just about every one was showing either advertisements or a cowboy film.

No wonder it has been said that when men have a remote control in their hands, they are not looking to see what is on TV, they are looking to see what ELSE is on TV.

So what has this to do with business?  A great deal, because it is all about how we communicate and that means how we pass on information and, more importantly, how it is received, or whether is it received at all.

I remember being told, in my youth to "look at me when I'm talking to you" and "Do you understand?" and "look at the blackboard, lad, not out of the window".

Our span of attention is said to be no more than 7 seconds by which time something else has intruded into our thought processes.  Many TV films, for example, cut each scene into very short pieces so as to keep the attention at a higher level.

In business we need to realise that attention spans are very short in general and unless we can encapsulate what we need to say in a very few words, the message will not get through.  Asking if the recipient understands will generally elicit a nod or a "yes" but is unlikely to be true.   Feedback needs to be gained on the basis more of "what have you heard?" or "what will you do now?" and that should discover whether the message has been absorbed.

Even more importantly, the rise of the use of websites and the all encompassing search engines means that we now have the opportunity to cover a vast amount of information.  Again, it is said that the average visit to a website is no more than 7 seconds if the information being sought is not immediately apparent.  Equally, very few people will look further than the first screen and very few scroll down to see what else is available. 

Have you ever tried to tell people what you and/or your company does?  Try to tell them in no more than 40 words in no more than 15 seconds.  A difficult task for those of us who are steeped in the lives of our companies but remember what Mark Twain said, "I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have the time".

If the attention span of the listener is short, make sure that the message is equally short which will give it a better chance of being heard and understood.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

1 comment:

Will Hopper said...

Thank you again for another wise comment. I recall having almost the same experience that you describe -- an audience that seemed to be on another planet. There is an expression in the law: 'to have the sympathy of the court'. We are told that, when a lawyer addresses a hearing, he will often knows almost intuitively whether the court as a whole (judge, jury and other lawyers) is with him or not. It is important to get one's message over clearly and concisely at the beginning. A apt and well-honed joke can assist.