Communicate in 8

By Karen Hendricks

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds long, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press in 2012.  Compare that to the average attention span in 2000 which was a whopping 12 seconds.  Or better yet, compare that to the average attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds.  (How is that determined?!)

The simple truth is that communicating is more challenging today than ever before.  So what does it take, to capture someone’s attention span for 8 seconds or more and convey a compelling message?  Here are a few tips, gleaned from 20+ years in the communications field, used regularly at Hendricks Communications:

1.  Tell Personal Stories:  Good public relations and marketing campaigns are transformed into great campaigns when they’re based upon captivating, real-life experiences.  People are fascinating!  Taking the time to understand and tell a client’s story, highlighted with anecdotes or quotes, injects an element of emotion.

2.  Use A Hook:  Think of a hook as something that draws you in and compels you to read further, listen longer, click on a link or turn a page.  The hook can take any number of angles–clever writing, an attention-grabbing quote or a shocking statistic but it grabs your attention instantly and piques your curiousity.

3.  Know the Facts and Stats:  Don’t overwhelm your reader, but strengthen your writing with a handful of carefully-researched and selected facts and figures.  Statistics add a powerful punch.

4.  Use Words that Wow:  Using a rich variety of language, including attention-grabbing vocabulary, engages a reader or listener.  Ten dollar words aren’t necessarily needed; quick and clever words with zing are just as effective, if not more so.  Spice up your vocabulary with playful prose or strong speech to suit the tone and subject.

5.  Be Brief:  Stick to the point, weave the story with colorful quotes, lanuage or facts where needed and come to a compelling conclusion.  Remember your audience has an average attention span of 8 seconds; if you hold their attention any longer, it can be considered a victory.

6.  Remember Appearance Counts:  Good design, clean fonts and a touch of color encourage the reader to actually read your text.  Make it easy to read; not complicated or requiring a road map.  A similar piece of advice works for the spoken word:  make your presentation easy to understand so that main points are clearly defined.

7.  Feature Photos:  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so use one (or more!) to enhance your writing.  Photographs convey mood, tone and expression so much more effectively, and quickly, than text.

8. Check the 5 Ws and 1 H:  The foundation of good journalism depends on asking the right questions and then making sure you’ve “covered all the bases” in your writing.  Who, what, where, when, why and how:  All of these questions should be answered or you’re bound to have gaps in your writing.  Once a reader discovers a gap, he or she tunes your message out.

Remember your audience may only be with you for 8 seconds–coincidentally the same amount of time that a rodeo rider must stay atop a bull in order to be awarded a score and win.

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