Attention, says Chris Hayes, the moderator of MSNBC’s “All In” program, is the scarcest commodity of the 21st century.
True. In her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” Sherry Turkle writes eloquently about the differences between deep attention and hyper attention. Hyper attention is a fractured attention in which we rapidly zip from one point of focus to the next. You and I know. Googling. Tweeting. Facebooking. Instagramming. Ceaseless distraction. Activities like skimming and scanning are often associated with fractured attention. Popular claims notwithstanding, hyper attention equals diminished retention.
Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University, thought she was immune to the perils of fractured attention. Sure, she saw evidence of fractured attention in most of her students – but that was other people! Until Wolf sat down one evening to read a novel by Hermann Hesse, one of her favorite authors, and found it difficult to focus on the book. Alarm bells rang.
Like it or not, every one of us is impacted by the onslaught of a hyper-attention culture. In every business situation, we engage with folks who have diminished attention spans. The time-tested essentials of influential communication become exponentially important in our attention-deficit-world.
Let’s remind ourselves of these business essentials.
- Lead with your main message.
Unless you’re in an explicit brainstorming session, nobody wants to hear you think out loud. Folks long to hear a clear message from you. Don’t crawl your way toward your main message as you speak. Get to it in the first sentence. Elaborate afterwards.
- Lead with your personal energy.
When you speak up in a meeting, speak with energy, the moment you open your mouth. You don’t have time for a sentence or two to “warm up” as you get going. If anything, begin with a little bit of extra energy at the start so my attention shifts from the previous speaker to you. If your energy doesn’t grab me from the start, why the heck should I listen?
- Lead with the unexpected.
When you speak, grab my attention with a colorful phrase, a succinct metaphor, a compelling analogy. If this does not come easily to you, listen to the pundits that offer commentary on television news shows. As annoying as some of them are – the good ones have mastered these skills. They grab our attention, from the start, with their choice of language. Study, practice, experiment.
- Lead with joy.
When you speak with a sense of delight, I want to listen to you. Ditto when you communicate with a sense of joy. Please don’t be overly measured as you talk. Don’t be pedantic. Above all, please don’t be boring. No matter how clever your argument is, I will tune you out.
Here’s the good news about fractured attention. The techniques just listed will help you harness the attention of your audience. Better yet: After her alarm bells rang, Maryanne Wolf was determined to reclaim her facility for deep attention. Wolf discovered that after 2 weeks of determined focus on the Hesse novel, her ability to immerse herself in deep reading returned. Whew.
Pay attention to attention. Theirs and yours. There is no personal success without it.