The Myth of the Short Attention Span

Robin Sacks
3 min readMay 24, 2021
Image by magnetme from Pixabay

One of the questions I often get as a public speaking coach is, “How can I engage my audience better since they have shorter and shorter attention spans?”

Like many things, we often believe the other person is the challenge. In this instance, your belief that people seem to have ‘shorter attention spans’ is what is getting in your way — not the fact that you may not be that interesting to listen to as a presenter. ;)

Think about it…

When you are listening to something that is not interesting to you, don’t you have a short attention span?

When you are watching something that’s boring, don’t you have a short attention span?

When you are asked or told to do something that you don’t see the value in spending time doing, don’t you have a short attention span?

Did you notice the running theme in those examples?

It had nothing to do with attention spans. It had to do with either the topic or the presenter NOT being interesting to listen to or watch OR there being no clear understanding of WHY paying attention can benefit you. When things are interesting to us, they hold our attention longer.

As a speaker, whether you are having a one-on-one conversation, talking to a small group in a conference room, or speaking to a crowd of 1,000, it is your job to be…well…interesting to listen to! If you are not, your listeners will tune out.

There is a difference between communication and effective communicaiton, and learning the difference can suddenly make people have longer attention spans around you.

It is the difference between playing rec ball and playing in the major leagues. Communication is something everyone can do, every day. But effective communication is a skill that is learned, applied, and honed consistently that puts you at a different level. The difference between the two is what keeps people engaged or not.

One of the ways to become more effective in your communication is to get better at storytelling. For example, if you have a presentation at work, don’t just put the spreadsheet up and show people the numbers from last quarter; get clear on what impact those numbers have and bring them to life! You might have…

Robin Sacks

I speak, coach, and write about confidence, self-talk, and stress management. I also live for cozy mysteries and bad (read: good) puns.