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You have 8 seconds to connect with your audience or make them fall asleep

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Whether you sell, teach, practice medicine or law, or even if you deliver keynote speeches, one thing is universally true for most professionals: your success as a communicator is in the eyes of your beholder. In other words, regardless of how well or not well you think you did at communicating your message, your audience is the ultimate arbiter of your effectiveness.

Audiences hold a lot of power. They decide whether to buy from you, listen to you, take your advice, or even whether to stay in the room and engage. They decide if they like you, think you’re smart, or deem you worthy of their attention. And then – as if all of that weren’t enough – they get to rate you, refer others to you or not, and talk about you freely, in person and online.

I don’t mean to make you wince or question yourself, but I do mean to raise your awareness. I actually mean to shift your focus to understanding – and then to accommodating – your audiences more.

Your audience may be one or 100, it doesn’t matter, there are common standards that apply.

For my upcoming book, I have been digging into attention spans – how they work and how long they last. After all, if we’re talking to people, we want to make sure we’re grabbing and holding onto their attention and making a positive impression.

Two interesting statistics emerged:

The first is the 8-second rule of thumb. When you are presenting or speaking, audiences size you up in the first 8 seconds and decide whether they’re going to pay attention to you and be fully engaged or not. Yikes, daunting! You need to hook your audience in the first 8 seconds?

Clearly, what you say and how you comport yourself in your opening counts.

attention span

The second is that the average adult cannot absorb and process more than 20 minutes of content at a time. In other words, if you are sharing consequential material that you need your audience to understand and retain, you need to break it up into smaller, more digestible chunks.

That’s the quantitative side. It’s probably not a shock, but it’s sometimes hard to abide by and implement because there’s often so much you feel you want or need to share. Just remember to prioritize and package your material in a way that works for your audience, and it’s likely to help your ability to track and deliver as well.

Now let’s look at the qualitative side, which is also intuitive. One of the more interesting books I took a look at was Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina. Medina distills his research down to 12 “brain rules” and two of them caught my eye.

The first was that people don’t pay attention to boring things.They pay attention to things like emotions and threats. This is probably why storytelling is so effective and also why being able to identify your audience’s “pain” works well to grab their attention.

The second was that people need repetition to remember. People need to be exposed and re-exposed to material you want them to retain. This is not at all surprising to those of us who can remember almost every advertising jingle from our childhood.

These audience-attention insights are not brain surgery. You know them because you have been “in the audience” too. You know what you like and don’t like, can and can’t tolerate. Being an effective communicator requires you to take into account your audience’s experience, it requires you to prepare, and most of all it begs you to prioritize so that what you deliver and how you deliver it suits your audience.

Keep them in the room and engaged. Make accommodations and put your audience’s needs ahead of yours. In the end, you’ll score big points in reputation and revenue.

See also:

How to get others to care about your message

A story of perseverance and hope from NAILBA 33

4 ways to achieve success in life insurance sales