So what do training and the magician Dynamo have in common? 

Well holding your learner’s attention is a little like Dynamo performing a magic trick, you need to get your audience to buy in to the illusion before you go for the big reveal! 

But how on earth does that happen when article after article tells us that the average human has the attention span of a goldfish and thanks to social media, millennials can barely focus long enough to order a flat white at their favourite coffee shop. 

So if all that is true, how do we manage to sit through a Lord of the Rings movie for nearly four hours, or how do you explain the popularity of box sets on Netflix? 

Here’s the scientific bit!

Our brains are wired to scan our environments continuously, like human radar, and then demand decisions on what they find, (think back to our early ancestors with their ‘flight or fight’ survival skills), the continual effort to block out ‘irrelevant’ blips and messages is tiring and we lose focus. Factors such as being hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, stressed or tired really don’t help either! 

Trainers/presenters/speakers don’t notice because the audience’s eyes are open…hopefully! 

What is our actual attention span? 

How long before we tune out? We don’t really know. If you have an audience, you will lose some of them within minutes, but a few might stay with you for a whole hour. Most people will drift away, and come back again. 

EdEx conducted a solid piece of research that suggests that engagement with online video drops sharply after six minutes.

TED talks aim for 18 minutes.

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said: “There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing.” But if you’re a fan of Seinfeld then you’ll know that each episode lasts for 22 minutes, so he wasn’t taking any chances! 

So with this in mind, think how many training and L&D formats naively assume that an audience will give unbroken attention for prolonged periods of time. 

Think in Zones

If your audience are sitting passively and not very interested, they are likely to be heading straight for the ‘hopelessly distracted zone’! 

If you’re using a mix of techniques, telling stories, being a little controversial maybe then your listeners won’t be distracted…for now! 

Aim to avoid the ‘fragile attention zone’, the place where the audience is passive, sitting rather than doing, listening rather than talking – you won’t have ‘em long in this zone! 

Ideally, you want people to be in the ‘strong attention zone’, and here’s nine magic steps to buy attention. 

Step One – Build The Learning Around Stories

The late Terry Pratchett invented the concept of ‘narrativium’. His point being that stories are so powerful, memorable and fundamental that they really deserve a place on the period table! Remember, real people tell real stories.

Step Two – Use Colourful Techniques

Never underestimate the power of a vivid image – what grabs people and captures their imagination will help with their long-term learning. 

Step Three – Harness The Power Of Emotion 

Imagine that emotion leaves a chemical ‘Post It Note’ on your thoughts, making it easier to retrieve and return to. Introducing feelings will help people to engage in a dry subject. 

Step Four – Get Active

If learners are encouraged to actively engage with a subject they will do much better than simply being told they have to pay attention. You can’t make someone pay attention just because you say so! 

Step Five – Make It Varied

A change is as good as a rest, and is more likely to ‘reset’ someone’s attention. Well variety is the spice of life! 

Step Six – Learn From Jeremy Kyle

Yes you read that right! Look at the design of The Jeremy Kyle Show. It’s built around stories – it has gripping images and emotion by the bucket load! Its variety of stories are broken into short segments, and even if you think it’s trashy and manipulative ‘car crash tv’, you can clearly see the tried and tested techniques that make it incredibly successful. 

There’s only one thing lacking, and that’s activity, but you can always jump off the sofa to shout at the tv to cover off that missing component! 

Step Seven – Make It Relevant 

Allow your audience to bring their own examples. Make it about them. Encourage people to tell their story, and if required, create a ‘safe’ environment for them to do so. 

Step Eight – Allow Learning To Move From Easy To Difficult 

 Visual this image…people need scaffolding and support to move from one phase of learning to the next. In order to move forward, learning is built on the last piece of learning undertaken, like stepping stones. If it’s too easy or too hard for that matter, you run the risk of losing people’s attention. 

Step Nine – Reward

Add an incentive, harness the power of gamification and add a competitive element! 

So that’s quite a journey we’ve taken you on, there’s a great deal to consider and build in to a great learning piece, but you’re not on your own! 

The Chrysalis Crew can help! 

Choose our Digital Leaning online workshop, our ‘masterclass’ will enable you to develop effective and stimulating training for your people needs.

Or talk to the team, you’re a click or call away from us working with you to create a bespoke learning experience for your business.

Let’s make some learning magic! 

Sue Alty – The Creative Coordinator

Contact Sue

We think Sue must be a ‘Master of the Dark Arts’, as she has hidden depths! Running our office with meticulous planning and capability, Sue is an avid list writer with a keen eye for detail. But don’t be fooled by that organised demeanour, for Sue is as creative as she is efficient! A skilled communicator with a humorous edge, Sue is as passionate about people and their learning and development as she is about becoming the future Mrs Tom Hardy or Mrs Benedict Cumberbatch (either will do!).  An interesting career path has taken her from the glamour of working in luxury London hotels to the chilled Distribution Centres of supermarket retail, and whether managing small groups or large teams, people are at the heart of everything Sue does.