The average attention span of human beings has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds between 2000 and 2013. This alarming finding was made by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. While reporting this statistics, Michael Brenner stated in his publication of May 30, 2014 that the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds, which means humans are less attentive than the fish.
The Centre defined attention span as the amount of time that a person spends while concentrating on a task without being distracted. It was further stated that, “most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation”. Michael Brenner agreed with this finding by observing that the advent of social media and the deluge of marketing and advertising messages available on them make them a major contender for people’s attention.
Have you ever noticed how connected people are to their phones, tablets, and other gadgets? Some people hardly look up in public places; they are busy concentrating on their devices. Sometimes in formal meetings, people would put their phones on silent rather than switch them off. It can even be a little irritating when you are discussing with someone and he or she intermittently checks out messages, sends replies, etc. I was at a formal event recently and an appeal was made at the beginning of the event that participants should switch off their phones and other devices that could disrupt the proceedings. Not long afterwards, we heard a phone ring. A closer look also revealed that some people had their hands under the table where they systematically made use of their devices. Of course, I doubt that they benefited from the programme as much as they should have.
The National Centre for Biotechnology Information further said that 25% of teenagers forget important details about their families and friends; 7% of people generally forget their own birthdays from time to time; and typical mobile phone users check their devices more than 150 times per day. We may consider these mere statistics that have little or no implication on our lives but we cannot deny that people are getting more and more distracted every day.
The issue of attention span should be a major concern for a public speaker. Think of all the things that are contending with you for the attention of your audience? This is not only about standing before a crowd to speak; it’s a problem no matter who your audience is. Imagine that you and your competitors are making a crucial presentation to potential clients. How will you feel if the opinion leader steps out to receive a call when it is your turn to present? How about defending your final year project before a panel in which more than half of the judges are staring at the screens of their phones while you are speaking? There is no way people can respond to you effectively if they don’t listen to you in the first place.
How do you think you can attract attention?