Events & Red Carpet

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Reducing The Cost Of Paying Attention

Pinnacle Performance Company   Volume 2 Issue 7

Reducing the Cost of Paying Attention 

How to Increase Your Audience's Attention Span


"I sometimes worry about my short attention span, but not for long."

                                                                                        -Herb Caen


There is little debate that our attention spans are growing shorter with each passing year. While Red Carpet is certain most people would award on-demand entertainment and the internet mostly positive marks, every rose has its proverbial thorn. The ability to stream what we want when we want it and the power to switch web pages instantly grants us more control over how we occupy our time, and, inevitably, there are repercussions when we lose that control.


Gone are the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the Illinois senatorial contests of 1858, where audience members listened in rapt attention, on many occasions, for over three hours. Accessibility and convenience are the watchwords of modern entertainment, and the paradigm shift has had an impact on the modern presenter.


While the numbers vary on the exact amount of time it takes for an audience's attention to wander, much of it depends on the type of attention being applied:


Focused attention - the type of attention we pay sudden stimuli (a loud noise, quick movement in our peripheral vision, etc.). The maximum span for this type of occurrence is only a few seconds.


Sustained attention - the type of attention that requires voluntary commitment (movies, conversations, presentations, etc.). Most adults have a maximum attention span of 20 minutes before having to renew it.


Twenty minutes is not much time. That number also does not account for many of the obstacles working against a presenter (fatigue, hunger, stress, etc.), so it is fair to say a presenter shouldn't rely on it.


Researchers also found attention spans lengthened and were renewed more often when audiences:


1)      did something they enjoyed or

2)      were intrinsically motivated.


Since the first is a no-brainer, Red Carpet will focus on the second item. "Intrinsic motivation" is another way of saying "investment in the outcome." How does a presenter encourage her audience to invest in what she has to say? The answer lies in hooks.

Hooks are unique attention grabbers meant to reel in your audience. They encourage the investment mentioned above because they appeal to audiences on multiple levels. Your Pinnacle training and manual discussed hooks, but here are some more advanced elements to keep in mind.

Use early, use often. Hooks work well as early attention grabbers, but don’t be afraid to sprinkle them throughout. Some work well as bookends or can be doled in segments. As mentioned earlier, 20 minutes is the most you can expect from people, so you may have to continually hook them.

Don’t steal your own thunder. Stories and other hooks that have climaxes can be tricky. The payoff must be proportional to the time spent building it up. That said, resist the urge to give away the gold early. An aura of mystery and teasing the audience with the conclusion is a great way to keep them intellectually and emotionally invested.

Multiple points, multiple hooks. Resist the urge to overuse one type of hook. If you started off with a story, throw in a quote or an interesting statistic. Challenge your audience in different ways at different times to maximize their investment level.

Hooks are often viewed as ancillary, an add-on to the “meat” of a presentation, but they provide ways to inject personality into an often stale event. Red Carpet encourages you to remember that, without your audience’s attention, premier content will accomplish very little. Hook them early and don’t let them go.

Sources available upon request.

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