A few weeks ago I read that a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information claimed that today’s average human has an attention span of only seven seconds, down nearly 30 percent since 2000. Notable, since a goldfish has an attention span of eight seconds.
Although a part of me questions how this was studied, and its validity, I can still relate to the idea that technology may be escalating our desire for instant gratification. If Google takes more than half a second to intuit our search intent and load after just typing three letters, we’re impatient. How many seconds are we willing to ponder any question – the distance to the moon, the closest Starbucks, your friend’s birthday – without asking omniscient Siri? Millions of Amazon Prime members’ online orders magically appear in two days or less with a single click. Kids these days can’t even wait to grow up. The Academy of Pediatrics reported that the current generation is physically reaching puberty earlier.
As if moving faster isn’t challenging enough, couple that with the overwhelming volume of information we have at our disposal. Back in 2010, Eric Schmidt from Google said at a Techonomy conference, “Every two days, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of man up until 2003.” Sigh … so much content, so little time.
The Challenge When Speed and Volume Collide
So, how does all that relate to your work and servicing customers? It’s that while new technology is amazing and empowering, it’s also evolving our standards of what “fast” means. Being in market research, it’s particularly pronounced in our shortened fielding-to-report turnaround times. We’re now supersizing our data collection through longer, multimedia and larger studies. Yet clients want to see fewer but more insightful details in their final reports. The confluence of distilling larger volumes of data into more succinct presentations – and in a quicker time frame – can be challenging (and exhausting). Kind of like walking up on a downward-moving escalator accelerated at double speed … carrying 20-pound camping gear.
Tips to Navigate Information Overload
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Here are a few tips to keep in mind while cutting through information overload: anticipate, delegate and deflate. Easy to do … and even more fun if you sing to the tune of INXS’ “Mediate.”
Interesting fact: Mind reading is an attainable superpower. I don’t mean mind reading by Marvel standards, but in terms of “knowing” what to send to your client before he/she asks for it. The trick is anticipation – put yourself in your client’s shoes to envision what he/she’s most concerned about. Provide a status update before it’s expected. Share your backup plan you’ve thought through in case something throws off the timeline. When you stay one step ahead, the pace of back-and-forth communications should feel more like a relaxing chess game and less like pingpong.
Even with mind-reading superpowers, you’re still human. Our body will shut down if we’re running at a mile a minute for too long. I’ve found that if at the start of a quick turnaround proposal, project or report I can briefly slow down for a few hours to sketch out my plan, it actually gets done faster and with less stress. Our natural instinct is to just quickly start the “doing” as opposed to the planning. Instead, write out what needs to be done, by when, and in particular what you HAVE to do versus what could be done by someone else. If you don’t have a rock star team to capably leverage your time, start building one … even if they are contracted staff, a vendor, colleagues or friends. Give yourself permission to stop running yourself ragged in the gerbil wheel.
This goes for email communications, conference calls, and in particular, presentations. As marketers, communicators and presenters, we often have much more data available to share than our audience can absorb or wishes to receive. If you want to captivate your audience, think long and hard about how to compress that pile of data into what really, really matters, and then SHOW it in a way they can quickly process. So, I often hold my critical slides to a 3-second rule: Will my audience understand what I’m trying to convey within seconds of looking at it? Our cluttered brains need bite-size, succinct packages of information. Think about those large Ziploc-style vacuum seal bags that instantly flatten bulky items such as comforters and sweaters by removing air fluff. That’s what your goldfish-minded audience expects of you – focus on the essence of the insights, absent the fluff.
Here are just a few visual cues we often use that can make your presentations quicker reads:
- Color: Use common assumptions, such as red equals negative and green equals positive, to emphasize insights including what works and what doesn’t. Create color-coded schemas that are applied consistently throughout a presentation to help the audience quickly follow transitions.
- Pictures and Icons: Try to streamline or eliminate unnecessary narrative by integrating relevant visuals and iconography – figure out ways to “show it” instead of say it. The brain can interpret images in a matter of milliseconds – much more quickly than reading or listening to the same content.
- Order: Always consider ordering preferences/ranks/frequency of mentions in descending order of top to bottom or left to right. Our brains can more quickly process these display patterns.
Based on the technology trajectory, our lives will continue to move faster. We all can use extra tips, tricks and hacks to keep up. Please feel free to share yours … in seven seconds or less, because none of us has the time to wait.