As a leader, you fight for people’s attention.
If you don’t have their attention, you don’t have influence. And if you have no influence, you’re not leading.
So having people’s attention is critical.
How do you get it?
That’s a great question.
And the emerging consensus today is that you need to be shorter because people’s attention spans are shrinking. As this article (among many) shows, people’s attention spans are dropping.
But notice the claim is only that the span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds today. 12 seconds was hardly a marathon.
Idea? Be brief, and you’ll have people’s attention.
I’d like to challenge that. I’m not convinced it’s solid logic and I’m not convinced that’s actually what’s happening.
I tend to agree with Derek Halpern and want to buck the accepted wisdom that attention spans are shorter.
Let me explain why, and then I’ll show you 5 ways to hold people’s attention far beyond what they’ll give most people.
The Real Issue: 10 Minutes of Boring is 10 Minutes Too Long
So what’s the real issue when it comes to attention span?
People don’t have time for boring.
Clearly we’re inundated with more messages than at any time in human history. And it’s forced us to be better stewards of what we consume.
Come on, you know this: faced with countless options, 10 minutes of boring is 10 minutes too long.
But an hour of fascinating is hardly enough.
If people’s attention span was truly 8 seconds, you couldn’t explain the rising phenomena of binge watching.
Why would teens and twenty somethings with zero attention span lock themselves in a room all day and all night to binge watch a brand new series?
Why This Blog Shouldn’t Work
When I started blogging seriously just under two years ago, people told me ‘nobody will read anything over 400 words.”
I heard it again and again.
But I realized much of what I had to say didn’t fit within 400 words, or often even 700.
So I just decided to be a long form blogger. I try not to waste words or go on too long. I always try to be helpful. But some ideas take longer to explain than others.
My average post is about 1200 words. Some have gone as long as 1600 words.
Just ask Ramit Sethi. He will often write very long emails, and hyper-lengthy copy and is one of the most successful online marketers around.
If you’re wondering, I personally don’t study him to become rich (that’s what his business is about), but because his approach to marketing is fascinating and completely counter-cultural these days. (If you want to see a study of his writing approach, you can click this link. Warning: there is off colour language).
So, I just decided to be me and wrote longer posts.
As some of you know, I set a goal in 2013 (my first full year of blogging) of 100,000 page views. To my utter astonishment, I saw over 800,000 page views.
Just a few days ago (early August 2014 if you’re reading this in the future), this blog passed 1,000,000 page views for 2014. I still can’t believe it.
Maybe long form copy isn’t dead.
And THANK YOU to everyone who has read and keeps reading this blog. I am so grateful to have met so many of you and we’re learning so much together.
It’s been an AMAZING journey.
And Now A Leadership Podcast
Next month I launch a podcast. Again, I’ve consulted with many podcasters about the ideal length.
Many told me 17-22 minutes is the sweet spot.
I’m doing an interview format in the podcast, and I want the podcast to be the best leadership conversations out there. My best personal leadership conversations never take 17-22 minutes to get through.
When I’m talking to a high capacity leader, the conversations often last an hour or longer.
Tim Ferriss and Pat Flynn have two of the top rated podcasts out there and theirs often run over an hour.
So I’m setting the format at 40-50 minutes per episode. I hope you’ll find the conversations with leaders as fascinating and helpful as I do.
We’ll see what happens. But I’m excited.
(P.S. If you want to get in on the launch of my podcast, sign up on my email list today. We’ll be keeping you in the loop and giving you further options for even being part of the launch itself. Just subscribe under my profile pic at the top right.)
5 Ways To Hold People’s Attention Spans In a Crowded World
So how do you hold people’s attention spans in a crowded world?
Here are 5 ideas that have helped me wade through it:
1. Write killer content
Quite simply, write the best content you can. When you’re writing (even an email), when you’re blogging, when you’re designing your website, when you’re speaking or preaching.
Spend the time you need to think through your ideas.
Don’t try to be someone else.
And if you’re not a writer, become an incredible curator of other people’s content.
If you cant’ write, research, collect and distribute the best content you can to your community.
Always ask permission, but use other people’s articles to populate your emails to people who attend your church or are part of your organization.
Killer content wins. It just does. People will read it. People will thank you.
Because everyone is looking for help. Be the person who helps them.
2. Pay attention to your headlines and series titles
I have learned over time that the headline makes all the difference.
If you want how to learn how to write great headlines, click on over here where I explain it in detail (and include some helpful links).
I’m now trying to apply that to sermon and series titles at our church.
For example, I was going to call our summer series this year “Entitled”, because it was all about entitlement.
Then I realized I created a yawner.
So we renamed it “Starve the Monster”. I talked about the monster of entitlement that lives in us and our kids, and our team developed a really great graphics package.
People talked about it, remembered it more, and it became one of our most shared series online this year. All that in the middle of summer.
Bet you you’ll remember Starve the Monster. And you already forgot ‘Entitled”.
3. Consider a 2 minute YouTube style summary of your message alongside the full version
Here’s an idea we haven’t implemented yet but will shortly.
Most churches upload their 30-50 minute message Sunday and leave it at that.
I think that’s a mistake. People are used to 2 minute YouTube clips. So why not create a 2 minute excerpt of one of the best moments of your message or a 2 minute highlight reel to place beside the full version on your site.
It would allow people to sample something before they dive in.
My guess is if your content is great it will increase the number of views you get on full length messages, not decrease them.
It’s just an easier access ramp.
4. Create headers, white space and key points.
Even though most of my posts are over 1000 words, you can read the key points in under 10 seconds.
Headers and subheaders, lists, points and lots of white space make the text so much easier to read and scan.
I think it also makes it more memorable.
You remember what you see.
5. Get up close and personal.
You know what people still like? Face time. And not the online version.
People love to meet you. They really do.
So as much as you can, get out from behind the keyboard and meet the people you serve.
Doing that one on one is tough when you have a church or organization over 100-200 in size.
But if you can’t meet one on one, meet in groups.
In the future when I’m on the road, I’ll try to meet blog readers and (soon) podcast listeners in groups by hosting meet ups.
At home, from time to time I throw parties for leaders and people who attend our church at my house. I can’t invite everyone (we have 2000 people who call our church home), but that doesn’t mean I should invite no one.
Throughout the year, we’ll host other events and ministries in which we try to build personal relationships, cast vision and thank people for their involvement.
We just recently held a few during peak vacation season and were shocked to get a 70% yes rate from people we invited. Clearly people want to connect.
Guess what happens every time you connect in person with someone?
People feel connected to you and you feel connected to them.
And that means the next time you speak, you have their attention, because they have yours.
Don’t ignore the personal touches that make life the amazing adventure it is.
So that’s why I think people will give you more time and attention than you think when you connect with them.
What do you think?
Leave a comment!