They Can’t Concentrate That Long!

I’d like to return to something that has been addressed on here before.  The idea that people now have a reduced attention span of fifteen to twenty minutes (insert similar number of your choice).  This is a myth.  Urban legend.  Fallacy.

People have never had a concentration span that long.  Good speakers know that people will stay with you for a few minutes.  Then if you engage them as listeners in some way, for another few minutes.  Then if you engage them again, for another few minutes.  3-5 minutes is probably the attention span of listeners today, as it was yesterday and fifty years before that.  Good speakers can hold (or regain) attention, bad speakers never could.

People can concentrate as well as ever.  I was chatting with a good friend this morning and he mentioned how young people will focus 100% for five hours without a break on a video game.  Movies are actually getting longer.  Some of the popular speakers today speak with good meaty content for 40 minutes to an hour (and the younger generation flock to hear them).  If something is worth hearing, and if the presentation is engaging, then length of presentation is not the issue many make it out to be.

So what to do about it?  In simple terms, preach well.  Better content and better delivery will have people listening better.  Gimmicks won’t.  Using visual multimedia won’t improve concentration.  Dividing a forty minute message into two twenty minute sections won’t improve concentration.  Giving people a pen and paper won’t improve concentration.  There may be a place for all of these ideas and many more, but they won’t fix the problem of inattentive listeners.  That will be fixed by better messages and better presentation.