Be Quick. Attention Spans are Shrinking.

A goldfish jumping from an empty bowl of water to another with other goldfish

Last year Microsoft released research that impacts everyone who makes presentations, holds meetings, or needs to hold someone else’s attention. Be quick. Attention spans are shrinking.
The research shows that the attention span of the average North American has shrunk to eight seconds. Not coincidently that’s about how long a typical soundbite lasts on a network TV news program. Here’s the truly alarming part. In 2000 the average North American had a 12 second attention span. In the late 21st century average attention spans hovered around 15 seconds. It has shrunk by almost half in a little more than fifteen years down to a skinny eight seconds. To give you a reference for how poor that attention span is, goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds!

The implication is pretty clear. Most audiences won’t give you their attention for very long if you don’t do something to grab it quickly and through out the course of your presentation, your meeting, your conversation, do some things that pull their attention back to you. After all you are now competing with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, news feeds, YouTube, texting, and the endless sea of apps that promise instant gratification.

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Still not sold that people’s attention spans have shrunk to that scrawny size of eight seconds? Watch people’s eyes. Notice how most people can’t hold eye contact for even a few seconds before they shift their eyes. That shift has several different reasons, but the biggest one is habit. Short attention spans lead to the endless search for stimulation, and the search begins with our eyes.

Here’s a link to an article about the Microsoft research. But I will warn you: It will take you more than eight seconds to read.

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