attention span

Five Things You Need To Know About Attention Span and Being Persuasive

Attention span is the amount of time someone can pay attention to a task – or a message – without being distracted.
How short is our attention span nowadays, and how can we still be persuasive with our ideas and visions?

Why Is Attention Span Relevant To You?

  1. You are challenged by the short attention span of others when you attempt to communicate your ideas, visions, or everyday thoughts.
  2. Your own attention span may be less than you realize. You want to get things done without getting distracted. You probably want to forge satisfying relationships with other people – which requires listening and, you guessed it, attention span.

Five Things You Need To Know About Attention Span And Being Persuasive

  1. Recently, it was reported that these days the human attention span is only eight seconds long. That is one second shorter than the attention span of an average goldfish. This myth is just that – a myth! What a relief!
  2. A person’s attention span depends on several factors, including age, mood, and environment.
    1. For example, Forbes reported that attention depends on generation, with Millennials able to focus for a whole four seconds longer than Gen Z. 
    2. BBC argued that it is difficult to put a number on attention span because it depends so strongly on the task and context.
  3. There are three types of attention span:
    1. Sustained attention: You focus on one activity for a long time. For example, you might be meeting in a conference room that might shelter you from distractions.
    2. Selective attention: You focus on one thing in particular while there are many other distractions around you. For example, you might focus on a conversation with a friend in a busy coffee shop. Or you might work at home while your kids play near you.
    3. Divided attention: You multitask. You can split your attention between two tasks, e.g., you might take notes during a meeting or write an email while cooking dinner. However, we struggle to keep divided attention up for long. We are usually less productive at both tasks we attempt to do simultaneously.
  4. With sustained or selective attention, we are much more likely to absorb information and much less likely to make mistakesNo surprise there!
    1. A study performed at the Technical University of Denmark found that our collective attention spans are decreasing due to the massive amount of information impinging on us constantly.
    2. We can still selectively focus our attention for long periods of time on something interesting and relevant to us. If it offers a good experience, all the better!
  5. If you want to attract people to your ideas, your writing, your podcast, your speeches, whatever it may be, follow these tips:
    1. Create high-quality, immersive content.
    2. Personalize your content to your recipients, and make it relevant. That will boost the recipient’s selective attention.
    3. Keep it concise. As Niro Sivanathan explains in his TED talk, “The counterintuitive way to be more persuasive,”: “In the world of communication for the purpose of influence, quality trumps quantity. By increasing the number of arguments, you do not strengthen your case, but rather you are actively weakening it. Stick to your strong arguments because your arguments don’t add up in the minds of the receiver; they average out.”
    4. Make it interactive. That can lead to greater sustained attention, keeping engagement high in longer pieces.

I’m Curious

  • What keeps your attention span prolonged?
  • How often do you multi-task, and how does multi-tasking impact your productivity?
  • Which of the four tips are you already using in getting heard and being persuasive?

References: and TED talk, “The counterintuitive way to be more persuasive”


  1. Jacquelyn on at

    What can kill the audience attention is boring content – even if relevant, and poor speech habits – lots of filler words, and lack of interesting word choices and turns of phrase. On the flip side a well crafted speech or article with a little humor works wonders to keep my attention.
    In the home, especially when dealing with several schedules, multi-tasking is imperative or the family will never have clean clothes, get where they need to go in a timely manner, eat a home cooked meal or go on vacation. However, there are times when shutting off the multi-tasking tendency is crucial. It can be a difficult transition.

    • Stephie Althouse on at

      These are all really excellent points, Jacquelyn! Thank you for chiming in!