- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

The Truth About Attention Spans

22nd November, 2019

The Truth About Attention Spans

Goldfish get a seriously bad rap.


You’ve heard that apparently they have an attention span of just a few seconds, right? Wrong. ‘Bubbles’ (our immortal goldfish I wrote about previously) is waaaay smarter than that.


He begs for food whenever he sees us go past – flapping around at the top of the tank like he’s dying of hunger.


He taunts our passive-aggressive cat by swimming up and down the tank right next to the glass.


He’s one sassy goldfish.


So I know it’s BS that they have short attention spans.


And I also think it’s rubbish that we humans have a similarly miniscule focus.


That we’re so pathetically time-poor and continually distracted that we struggle to do anything for more than 8 seconds.


Frankly it’s a wonder we manage to get our trousers on in the morning.


A miracle that we don’t end up arrested on the train in our underpants.


A marvel that we aren’t all wandering the streets aimlessly trying to remember where we were going…


I think it’s a load of rubbish (or at least some of it).


Here’s my take. First of all, it looks like the goldfish theory has been debunked by lots of clever people.


As rightly says, our attention span isn’t shortening, it’s evolving. We’re getting choosier, not necessarily flightier.


And what is an ‘average attention span’ anyway? After all, I can geek out on anything communication-related for hours on end, but give me the terms and conditions on my insurance policy and I’ll be scrolling through my Instastories in seconds.


It’s probably the same for you and your interests.


So what does this mean for our content and our marketing? How do we cut through the noise and get our messages heard and digested?


Well, good news – I don’t reckon as much as changed as we think it has. The simplest advice is still the best:


  1. People continue to read stuff they’re interested in. Not what you’re interested in. So, make an effort to find out what really floats their boat and talk/write about that.
  2. No-one likes boring. If you trot out the same bland stuff that we’ve heard a gazillion times before, you’re not going to grab anyone’s attention. It is true that our prospects and clients have more choice than ever of what to read, watch and listen to. So work your socks off to be original.
  3. Stories still work. Always have done, always will.
  4. Your audience aren’t mugs. No-one likes being hit around the head with cheesy sales lines and false promises of riches. That’s not attention-grabbing, that’s just spamming.
  5. It’s not just about getting attention, it’s about holding it. About engaging and starting conversations. You have to be consistently interesting and deliver ongoing value to truly succeed.


Hope that helps. Now, where are my trousers?

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

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