I recently read an updated statistic about people’s attention span. According to research done at Kaiser Permanente, humans have an average attention span of 8 seconds [one second shorter than a goldfish!].
As presenters, this should be very worrisome.
We’ve known for some time that we need to capture our audience’s attention quickly and work hard to keep it by presenting our information in an engaging manner. Now it looks like that’s more important than ever.
Here are some techniques for extending that 8 second time frame:
1. Ask lots of questions. Our brain processes a question differently than a straight declarative statement. When someone hears a question they automatically start formulating an answer even if they don’t verbalize it. Use frequent rhetorical questions to create a break in your narrative and keep listeners involved. Use closed and open ended questions to generate real participation. If the audience is talking it’s much harder for them to dis-engage.
2. Don’t keep a slide on the screen for very long [8 seconds??]. This means that you can’t have a slide covered in bullet points [which isn’t a good idea anyway] because it will take you too long to cover all that content before moving to the next slide. Change the visual cues frequently to keep listeners’ attention.
3. Guard against information overload. Be quite ruthless in editing your content. Ask yourself, “What does my audience really need to know about my topic?” And then find another vehicle [handout, document on website, email] through which to share the nice-to-knows.
4. Organize your content into bite-sized chunks of information. These smaller segments will make it easier for your audience to follow and increase the likelihood they’ll stay engaged.
5. Make your presentations shorter. Just because you have an hour, it doesn’t mean you have to talk for an hour. See #3 above and plan to use at least a third of your allotted time to engage in dialogue with the audience. Let them ask questions; ask questions of them; ask them to share their experiences; ask them how they think your information will help them or how they will use it.
6. Incorporate interactive activities into your presentation. In addition to audience participation [see #5 above] use quizzes to test knowledge or present scenarios requiring a solution. Add video snippets to demonstrate how something should – or shouldn’t – be done. Leverage technology to poll audience opinions or solicit answers to questions [Poll Everywhere] or gather audience feedback through a Tweetstream.
No matter what technique you use – and I suggest using several – you’ll have a good shot at extending that attention span so your audience can triumph over the goldfish...and far more importantly, get maximum value from your presentation.
www.flickr.com/Three Second Memory C.C. 2.0