Pay Attention To The Theory Of Attention

It wouldn’t be atypical to listen to some enthusiastic statements, from advisors and sales professionals alike, saying:
-“I have prepared a great presentation for my clients”
-“I will spend some quality time with my prospects to know them better”
-“I have created an in-depth action plan to share with my boss”

Advisors and sales professionals are in a constant quest to persuade and win mind-share of their prospects and clients. But the question which is ignored is, Will he or she ‘pay attention’?! We all know that it is relatively easy to speak, but do we also know how difficult it is to listen & pay attention?!

In this edition, we will introduce some interesting facts around the science of attention spans & how it should be respected in your ‘communication strategy’.

To quote Wikipedia (with some other observations and additions),

‘Attention span is the amount of concentrated time a person can spend on a task without becoming distracted. The element of distractibility occurs when the individual is uncontrollably drawn to some other activity or sensation.’

There are 2 types of attention spans:

  • Transient attention is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention. Researchers disagree on the exact amount of human transient attention span. (Research suggests it to be ~8 seconds and shrinking, which is less than that of a goldfish! A Harvard study suggests we spend as much as 50% of our day mind-wandering, lost in a dream!)
  • Selective sustained attention, also known as focused attention, is the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. Common estimates of the attention span of healthy teenagers and adults range from 10 to 20 minutes. People can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. This ability to renew attention permits people to 'pay attention' to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as lengthy films.


With such fickle attention spans, it becomes vital to focus not only content but also incorporating the science of attention spans to ensure effective meetings/presentations.

Here are a few tips:

1). Focus on the environment where the meeting will be held. Make your prospects or clients sit with their backs facing the door. Use blinders (if possible) in meeting rooms. One may consider using an extra aid to help with transitions in presentations, if need be, so that there can be complete attention on communication.

2). People don’t pay attention to boring things. Give up ‘monotonous monotones’ and focus on tonality! Use lesser words and more of pictures. Incorporate shades of emotions in your voice.

3). People also pay attention basis triggers from memory. Thus, smart references to things known and past events can be used to gain attention, specially while kick-starting conversations.

4). Try to map your conversations in a way that the vital points don’t come around the 10th or 20th minute. Try to give a ‘pleasant jolt’ by an emotional modulation, questioning or through the use of humour to regain the capacity for sustained attention.

5). (May sound queer!) Serving warm caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee can aid in alertness. Also, sugary drinks are said to enhance willpower and said to provide relief from mental exertion!

Thus, paying attention to the science of attention is vital and in a way is also empathetic. It aids you in respecting one of the shortcomings of ‘being human’ and use it to your advantage for effective persuasion!

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