Keeping Your Audience’s Attent…Look There’s a Squirrel

Well, it’s officially over…your attention span that is!

Smartphones Fault?

I’m not sure if you are still reading given recent findings on just how short attention spans have become but here goes…

I knew things had gotten bad back in 2015 when I read an article in The Telegraph titled Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones. According to that article:

Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms. The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.

That was 2015! Two years later have things deteriorated further?

Bye, Bye, 30 Seconds

One sign of our darting attention span is the erosion of the venerable 30-second commercial. In fact, the Fox Sports Network has recently begun airing six – yes you read that right – six-second commercials during NFL and Major League Baseball. According to Ad Age, Fox began testing six-second spots in August during the Teen Choice Awards. They also reduced the overall volume of commercials during the test by 20%. In an article, titled Fox Will Air Six-Second Spots In NFL Games, Jeanine Poggi notes:

In theory, most people in the industry would agree that less commercial clutter is valuable for both consumers and advertisers. Fewer ads increase the chances that the spots will be remembered. But there are plenty of questions surrounding the economics. In order to maintain ad revenue while decreasing ad loads, networks have to raise prices on the inventory. Marketers are far from convinced that they should pay more to be in a program with less commercial clutter.

But pay they will! During that six-second commercial pilot conducted during the Teen Choice Awards, Fox reportedly generated 30% more ad revenue despite decreasing ad density by 20%. According to some reports, Fox collected $75,000 for each of those six-second ads, which is the equivalent of 30-second spots on many reasonably popular programs.

Purposeful Interruption

Therein lies the lesson, albeit a quick one. Every form of communication today should be viewed as an “interruption.” When you are trying to get a message across today less is more and quick beats slow!

People are doing what they enjoy and fending off a daunting barrage of messages – ads, blogs, texts, and posts on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – you name it! According to an article for, Jules Schroeder notes:

Industry experts estimate that the average person is exposed to around 5,000 ads a day, which speaks volumes of the subconscious overload we experience to buy, buy, buy.

Brevity Wins

So how will you disrupt in six-seconds? What message do you want to share?

Not long ago I did a TEDx talk that was 12 minutes in length. As a keynote presenter accustomed to being invited into the brain space of audience members for typically 60-90 minutes, I found the task invigoratingly challenging. Even from the keynote stage, my colleagues and I have long been trying to shift, twist, surprise, and accommodate audiences filled with drifting attention.

When forced to be particularly brief and powerfully disruptive, I harken back to the writings of Blaise Pascal. In his Provincial letters written between 1656 and 1657, Blaise wrote, I only made this letter longer because I had not the leisure to make it shorter.” Today we need leisure to “make messages shorter,” or many of us won’t have an audience to keep our day job!

I could say more but my time has long elapsed! A very special thanks to those of you who’s attention has outlasted my goldfish!

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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