By Kem Meyer
Stubbornness is an unintelligent barrier, refusing enlightenment and blocking its flow. -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
You can ignore the world around you and use old techniques you’re comfortable with. Or, you can learn how people are really connecting to content in today’s culture and join the conversation.
According to a recent study by Microsoft, the average human attention span has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.
I believe it. Our brains are rewiring themselves based on how we use technology. Generations of people are losing the ability to concentrate.
Besides missing that whale that just swam by, people don’t read all that lovely content you’ve written; they skim and scan it. They’re looking for a keyword that catches their attention or hits a nerve with something they’re dealing with. And, they’re impatient sitting still, unable to absorb long lectures.
Noah Zandan, CEO of Quantified Impressions, shared a Prezi (presentation software for cool kids) with the five metrics you need to know to give a great presentation.
Obviously, Noah knows about the goldfish:
- 5 seconds: the amount of time you have to make a positive first impression.
- 5 minutes: the average audience attention span (down from twelve, then five in past ten years).
- 150: average number of times the average American checks his/her phone in a twenty-four-hour period.
- 12: maximum number of words that should be projected on your screen at a time
- 100: percent of your audience will appreciate your speech ending on time
Some cognition experts have praised the effects of tech on the brain, lauding its ability to organize our lives and free our minds for deeper thinking. Others fear tech has crippled our attention spans and made us uncreative and impatient when it comes to anything analog.
Technology isn’t making us stupid, it’s making us different.
And, different isn’t always bad. In 2014, the third highest reason people gave for their increased Bible reading was, “Downloaded the Bible onto my smartphone or tablets.”
Do people need to get a life, turn off the computer and put down their phones? Yes, sometimes. But, the answer isn’t to unplug to stay smart. We may just need to flip-flop how we supplement our knowledge. That is, in the past, we had to create the space to go online to enhance our learning and social networks. Now, we need to create the space to go offline to do the same.
We need to acknowledge that our brains process information differently today than they did even five years ago. Look at the regular communication channels you’re using (e.g., weekly bulletin, email blasts, website, etc.) on a quarterly basis. Are you presenting too much information for people to absorb? Chances are you’ll find paragraphs (and maybe pages) of content that’s been added over time.
Bloated content doesn’t make a powerful impact, it diminishes or eliminates it.
Want to engage with the short attention spans of our society? Get to the point; in every channel. Look at the length of your narrative on the platform, in print and online. The responsible choice about what’s next isn’t whether or not you choose to make cuts, it’s what you’re going to cut.
Kem Meyer has spent nearly three decades helping people communicate better. She spent 15 years in corporate communications, and led communications at Granger Community Church. Kem lives to simplify complexity and reduce information obesity in churches and organizations. She is the author of Less Chaos. Less Noise: Effective Communications for an Effective Church.