Betty was excited that her husband had returned from work. She had a lot to tell him, ranging from the broken kitchen knife to the plumbing problem. Unfortunately, Fred wasn’t in the mood for any of that. He had a tough day and needed to free his mind from everything by watching a game of football. Betty tried to show how much she cared by asking him about his day at work. For Fred, however, that was the worst conversation he could have at that time, so, he managed a few incoherent statements while keeping his eyes “glued” to the television screen.
Since it was obvious that Fred wasn’t ready to share his “day-time” experiences, Betty would readily share hers. So, she started her narration. After a few “hum”, “really”, “ok” responses from Fred, she was certain he hadn’t heard her at all in the last 10 minutes. “Fred, did you hear what I just said?” She asked. “Of course darling, you said…” Fred was once again lost in his game so he didn’t complete his sentence. “Fred!” She called. “Yes dear?” “You weren’t listening!” “Of course I was, I just told you what you said,” he defended. “No you didn’t,” she said. “Ok, please give me a few minutes. I will give you my undivided attention during the halftime,” Fred pleased.
Finally, it was halftime and Betty started her story again. “Like I was trying to say earlier, I just discovered this morning that the kitchen knife is…” “One minute dear,” Fred interrupted, “Francis told me about this commercial at the office and I promised to look out for it”. After the commercial, Fred said, “I’m sorry dear, you were saying…” “No! I was TRYING to say that…” Then there was the sound of a phone ringing. Fred looked around for his phone but couldn’t find it. He frantically moved books, papers, etc until he found his phone. “Hello Billy,” Fred said. “What, he commented on my post? That is fantastic. And how many likes do I have now? Wow, I’ll check it right away.” All the while, Betty looked on helplessly.
After the facebook episode, Fred said, “I’m so sorry darling. So, what happened to the kitchen knife?” He was trying to be nice. “Never mind the kitchen knife. There is a major plumbing problem in our room. The bathtub is…” Betty stopped because Fred had sheepishly raised a finger in objection. “What is it this time?” She asked. “May I use the bathroom?” Betty was exasperated but she let him go. A few minutes later, Fred walked into the room while chatting on Whatsapp. In frustration, Betty screamed, “Will you pay attention if I say ‘Please’?” Fred was shocked by the outburst, so he dropped his device and settled down quietly to listen to his wife. But before she could get a statement out, Fred said, “Sweetheart, will you mind terribly if we continue this conversation after the game? The halftime is over.”
There used to be a time when the problem was lack of information. In this age, however, the problem is information overload. According to Dr. Paul Marsden, in his article titled, “Fast Facts: Information Overload 2013”, 90% of all the data in the world were generated over the last two years.
Dr. Marsden, citing Miller’s Law, stated that the “maximum number of pieces of information a human brain can handle concurrently is seven.” If this is true, don’t you think we have a lot of problems today? Too many things are fighting for our attention, yet we can’t attend to all of them at the same time if we must be effective. Marsden also claimed that greater stress and poorer health are linked to information overload. It makes sense, therefore, for people to develop a sorting process through which they determine what is important and what is not.
As a public speaker or a communicator generally, can you imagine how much competition you have in getting the attention of your audience? How can you guarantee that your information is not among the ones sorted for the trash? This calls for skillful crafting of information and learning how to grab and sustain attention.