Attention. Grab It!

You vs. Goldfish – 8.5 seconds.

That’s our average attention span these days—the amount of time we can focus on one thing without distraction.1

That’s down 50% from the 12-second mark in 2000. And that’s shorter than the 9-second attention span of a goldfish.2

Your Biggest Challenge: Grabbing Attention and Keeping It

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella points out, in today’s distraction-rich business world, “the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” 3

Yes, capturing and keeping attention is harder than ever before.

We’re bombarded with information, solicitations, and messaging. The pace of business has sped up, and we’re now conditioned to react more quickly to requests for decisions.

Our email boxes are filling up faster than we can empty them. We are more inclined than ever to quickly ignore and discard messages that don’t appear immediately valuable to us.

Yet, in the face of these challenges, too many business professionals fail to grab and keep audience attention.

Instead, when they present to colleagues, analysts, executive teams, potential customers, and other decision makers, they:

  • Focus too much on the details of their proposals—and not enough on making sure they speak to the motivating needs of their audience.
  • Present unfocused, data-heavy PowerPoint slides and then “talk over” those slides—guaranteeing that neither their words nor their slides will be understood.
  • Give one-way presentations that ignore the “attention-grabbing” power of a provocative discussion question.

Because of these (and other) common mistakes, even compelling and critical messages fail to overcome distractions.

Just think about how often you see people checking their phones or tablets during meetings and events—sometimes even during the middle of one-on-one conversations!

This failure to grab and keep attention has real costs. Instead of motivating better business decisions faster, weak presentations prompt unnecessary delays, costly revision-rework cycles, indecision, and lost opportunities.

5 Strategies for Grabbing and Keeping Attention

Here’s the bottom line: you’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll get better decisions faster just by just presenting more or better information.

To achieve your goal, you must deliver that information in a way that grabs and keeps the attention of your audience, using strategies such as the following:

  1. Capture attention from the start with a striking idea, statistic, story, image, or metaphor.
  2. Reduce the amount of information you present, keeping your focus on only the most critical data needed to drive audience interest and motivate the desired action.
  3. Identify your audience’s most important care-abouts, and systematically reference them during your presentation.
  4. Engage your audience in a two-way dialogue during your presentation, both as a change of pace and as a tactic to keep everyone “on their toes” and focused on your message, rather than their phones.
  5. Clarify, simplify, and repeat your “ask”—the decision or action you want your audience to execute.

Learn More

Want to improve the impact of your critical presentations? Then read these blog posts: More Dialogue, Fewer Data Dumps and Are Your Slides Killing Your Sales? Then, download the whitepaper Credible Messaging: The Missing Driver of Business Performance.


1 Statistic Brain
3 The New York Times. “The 8-second attention span.” 1/22/2016.

Picture of David Mears

David Mears

Formerly Chief Sales Officer at Mandel, David was responsible for the organization’s sales growth, as well as for key strategic global accounts. He is an expert in sales strategy development and execution and regularly consults with Fortune 500 companies about their sales strategy design and execution plans. Prior to his work with Mandel, David was an executive team member at BayGroup International, where he was involved in both internal and client-facing strategic project work. David has also held senior roles with Learning International.
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