Survey Finds Attention Spans Aren’t Shrinking–They’re Evolving

Attention spans are not shrinking, rather they are evolving to be more selective, according to a new research study from Prezi, the presentation platform that helps people connect more powerfully with their audiences and customers. The 2018 State of Attention Report, which measured the effectiveness of content and presentations and how they resonate with business professionals across demographics, including Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers, found that the key to engaging content is a compelling narrative combined with stimulating visuals and dialogue.

According to the survey, the ability to maintain focus has actually improved over time, despite an ever-growing mountain of available content. This demonstrates that the attention of business professionals can be captured for long periods of time with compelling content that includes great stories and interesting, gripping visuals.

More than two thousand business professionals from the United States of America participated in the study, conducted by Kelton Research. Key findings include:

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1. Respondents reported that they have increased attention spans, but have become more selective in the content they choose to consume:

  • 59% of professionals say they can give a piece of content their undivided attention without getting distracted more now than they could one year ago.
  • 49% admit they’ve become more selective about the content they consume.

2. The key to engaging content is a compelling story and visuals:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 respondents said a strong narrative (88%) or the story (87%) behind what’s being presented is critical in maintaining the engagement of their audience.
  • 55% of business professionals say a great story captures their focus and keeps them engaged with content.
  • In regards to presentations, 79 percent of business professionals said the use of animated visuals in presentations is effective in keeping the audience engaged.

3. The costs of not keeping attention for business professionals are high:

  • 95% of business professionals say they multitask during meetings.
  • Around one-third of these multitaskers lose track of (37%) or have trouble retaining (31%) the information that was being discussed.
  • One in five admit multitasking in meetings has caused them to make an error in their work.

“Our attention spans being shorter than a goldfish’s is a grossly inaccurate rumor. These days it’s common to binge-watch a series for six or more hours, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to pay attention in a meeting. You just need to couple your content with a compelling story and great visuals,” says Nadjya Ghausi, vice president of marketing at Prezi. “We at Prezi believe that attention spans aren’t shrinking — they’re simply evolving, and the time to cater to new preferences isn’t tomorrow; it’s now.”

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Millennials: Key to the Future of Effective Storytelling and Presenting

Millennials, according to Pew Research Center, became the largest generation present in the workforce in 2017, making them the most important group to cater to when seeking the attention of business audiences. The content that Millennials find most engaging aligns with how storytelling needs to evolve in business — that is, it needs to include more visuals, animation, and a compelling narrative:

  • More Millennial business professionals (90%) than Gen Xers (85%) or Boomers+ (82%) shifted their focus away from the speaker during the most recent presentation or sales pitch they saw live.
  • More than one-third of Millennials say they only engage with content that they feel has a great story or theme.
  • 82% of Millennial presenters say animated visuals are effective in keeping an audience engaged.

The results from the study suggest that attention spans are not only intact, but also getting longer in younger generations. More effective storytelling in business can also help bridge gaps between different generations in the workforce. The State of Attention study found that more than half (55 percent) of all business professionals say a great story captures their focus and keeps them engaged with content.

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