How to hold someone’s attention for longer than 20 seconds

We’re traveling along the communication highway at top speed. But instead of using one of the latest techno methods mentioned in the last article (such as Twitter, texting, or online networking), we’re going old school.

A face-to-face conversation.

Looking at laptopScary – isn’t it? Suddenly I can visualize a lot of eyes peeking up over cubicle walls or peering from behind computer screens questioning that communication tactic. But it’s still an important business technique. It’s called the personal touch.

In the last article we talked about how modern technology has changed the way we communicate. For example, why television commercials are rarely longer than 20 seconds when years ago they could last one minute or longer. Technology  has changed our attention spans.

People want information now or they’ll search somewhere else for it. As Bruce Springsteen once sang about his shrinking attention span while surfing through the stations on his cable TV:

There was 57 channels and nothin’ on.”

So during a conversation – when you’re meeting a new client or advertising your product (for someone to buy, buy, buy), how would you hold their attention if you were talking for longer than 20 seconds?

The days of the long-winded sales pitch are over. You need to grab someone’s attention and hold onto it. Thanks to 20 second commercials and other methods that deliver information fast, your competition is technology. And if you can’t compete, no one will bother to listen. Worse yet, they might listen to someone else. And then remember that person’s conversation – and their message – instead of you.

There are three important conversational techniques that will keep your listeners focused on what you’ll say next. And of course, what you will say after you have their attention would be the  message you actually want them to hear:

Three Conversational Techniques that will hold someone’s attention for longer than 20 seconds:

  1. Keep them interested
  2. Entertain them
  3. Humor them

Sound simple? It can be – once you learn the proper way to use these techniques. After all, I’m not writing these articles to train people to be stand-up comedians. I’m training people who want to stand above the competition in business and education by using effective and productive verbal communication skills. And sometimes you only have 20 seconds or less to make an impression. Are you prepared?

looking at watchWhen you work in customer service, sales, education, or as an administrator / supervisor, you are expected to be informative and have solutions. But whether your clients, students, or co-workers have the attention span to hear, listen to, and remember what you are saying (your message) depends on how it is delivered.

What you say and how you say it matters more now than ever before. Personality counts – and if you have one (and I’m sure you do!) it’s time to use it for your advantage.

Be interesting, entertaining and humorous (when given the opportunity) and most people will pay attention for 20 seconds or longer. That’s longer than most television commercials – which come with big price tags from advertising agencies that already know this.

When you have their attention, they’ll hear your message. We’ll talk more about these communication enhancements the next time we communicate. Stay tuned…


Comment? Please use the form below. In the meantime, thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

Musical Interlude: 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) by Bruce Springsteen



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Dave Schwensen is a nationally recognized comedy coach and author of six books including How To Be A Working Comic. He has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. Dave is a keynote speaker and break-out session leader (for your next event!) and CILC Pinnacle Award Winner for video conferences on comedy, communication skills and pop culture.

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