In recent months I have caught myself deciding to buy a book or some other printed item based on the number of pages and the font space and size of the text. If the chapters ramble on, regardless of the content, I find myself skipping paragraphs or speed reading to get the main point or finish the time-consuming task. I’m not proud of this, just being honest about the obvious impact on my study and reading time. It has caused me to buckle down relative to my attention span.
We’ve all been in classes, heard speakers, and read books where the main point if there was one, was lost in the weeds of verbiage. You left confused with more questions than answers. The person who said, “A message doesn’t have to be eternal to be memora-ble” is certainly right in our day of “less is more.” The days of the 45 to 60-minute sermons are becoming memories; even 30-minute sermons have become Sleep-aids. If a listener can leave with one point and one intentional application based on the sermon, an amazing thing has occurred.
We’re living in a time where the attention span is shrinking faster than the dollar or a cheap cotton shirt. The ability to concentrate mentally on a particular activity, especially in events where information is being dispersed is impacting every aspect of communication. In cases diagnosed as extreme by mental health professionals, a new label—ADD—has been coined: Attention Deficit Disorder. It has been estimated that every classroom in America, from elementary to college, contains students with ADD. Some schools have special classes and teachers to deal with attention span issues.
Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 persons, studying their brain activity of 112 us-ing electroencephalograms. The results showed the average attention span of a human had decreased from 12 seconds in 2000, or about the time the cell phone revolution began, to eight seconds. In the meanwhile, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds. Other studies indicate that the average attention span of an adult or young person who is really interested in a subject is approximately 20 minutes. This calls at-tention to the need for upgraded communication skills: delivery, listening, attention, re-membering, application etc. Thus the questions: As a leader is your attention span longer than a goldfish? How about your listeners?
One of the major reasons Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863, is so memorable is because of its brevity—272 words. Today that’s about one double-spaced, 8 ½ X 11, typed page. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech lasted 17:29 minutes. Churchill’s “We shall Fight on the Beeches” address lasted 12:22 minutes. Steve Job’s Stanford Commence address lasted 14:45). It has been estimated that an average reader can read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in 18 to 20 minutes.
The Ten Commandments are presented in 17 verses in the NKJV (Exodus 20:1-7) and can be read in three to five minutes. Peter’s sermon—the first Gospel sermon—on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts, is 11 verses (Acts 2:29-39). We don’t have a record of the “Many other words” preached (2:40). In his discourse before the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill, Paul spoke approximately 268 words as recorded in the NKJV. Yes, I remember he once preached until midnight and a hearer fell from a window (Acts 20:1-12).
My computer word count is growing. So I’d better get to the point. This is the intro-duction article to my new blog column for WBI: Power Points for Leaders. Each blog post will be presented with the realization that LESS IS MORE. I will get to the relevant point for leaders. There is amazing power in one word. Paul affirmed this when he used the Greek word rhema in Ephesians 6:17: “And take the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is A WORD of God. There is awesome power in ONE WORD, e.g.: No! Yes! Love! Re-pent! Stop! Obey! Etc. This is why James said, “Let your YES be yes, and your NO be no” (James 5:12). A word of God can defeat Satan.
Remember what Jesus said about the Gentiles: “And when you pray, do no use vain rep-etitions as the Gentiles do. For they think that they WILL BE HEARD for their MANY WORDS” (Matthew 6:7). Yes, less is more! Especially in light of the fact that we all KNOW more than we are practicing. We need continual reminders contained in brief points that, hopefully, will initiate new actions of leadership.
God has created us with brain functions that contribute cognitive processing abilities and resources to focus on stimuli and information. When we are exposed to information our brain exercises mental processes that decode it from our environment which allows us to experience it through our five senses. Our attention span determines how focused or how long we are focused on something we are being exposed to by listening and watching.
Paying attention is the first cognitive function which determines how we process the meaning and application of the subject, etc. Numerous things contribute to attention span and how we process the event. Here is a quick reminder of various types of attention.
Momentary attention. Out of the blue, you hear a noise and turn to see where it came front. Since it ceased quickly, you paid no more attention.
Selective attention. The speaker is rambling on and you lose interest, but when he comes to a joke or bit of interesting data you listen. This is selective attention. This is a popular form of listening to sermons and lectures.
Alternating attention. This is the ability and practice of switching back and forth from one project or subject to another, each requiring a different cognitive skill. Some-times neither task is done very well.
Divided attention. We’ve all heard a teacher say, “Let me have your undivid-ed attention.” This is the cognitive practice of alternating, somewhat successfully between two tasks. This is usually referred to as multi-tasking.
Sustained attention. This is the ability to cognitively focus with a laser beam of attention on one item, subject, etc. without being distracted. It is having “ears that hear and eyes that see.”
Prayerful attention. This is a self-control and spiritual approach to paying attention. It is a recognitions that Satan is continually trying to steal the word out of our hearts (cf. Luke 8:12). It is continually asking God to help you pay attention (cf. 1 Thessaloni-ans 5:17).
Avoidance attention. This is a deliberate cognitive choice not to pay atten-tion to what is being said. It is flipping through the song book or Bible during the message. It is focusing on a person or item in the auditorium.
Deficient attention. When a person has a brain injury, dementia, etc. it is not possible to focus on what is being said, or comprehend what is being presented.
These are the attention challenges a speaker or writer faces which demand staying abreast of the new advances and practices in communication. Remember your listeners and readers may not have the attention span of a goldfish. How about YOU? I’m looking forward to our next power point visit.
As a leader and teacher, you must challenge yourself to pay attention as well as teach others how to pay more productive attention. Here are some quick tips:
Believe you can pay attention. This is more than half the battle.
Know why you need to pay attention: to learn, remember, and use materi-als.
Make a commitment to self, others, and the Lord to paying attention.
Go to the event with an idea of what you will learn, or desire to learn.
Prayer specifically before entering the learning event.
Pray for the teacher before and during the learning event. (Mental prayer—self-talk).
Wear comfortable clothing which is appropriate and in good taste.
Make it a habit of paying positive attention to what is being said.
Get a good night’s sleep is will help prevent tiredness and drowsiness.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Proper eating habits contribute to alert-ness.
Get appropriate physical exercise, it contributes to your ability to stay fo-cused.
Remove all distractions: cell phone, computer, notes, iPad, music, etc.
Stay in the present. Don’t daydream, drift into “trance”, mind wanderings, etc.
Repeat what is being said in your mental self-talk.
Choose a good seat or pew close enough to a speaker or teacher to see his eyes.
Know you learning mode: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.
Take notes of major and relevant points, ideas, illustrations, etc.
Ask questions. (1) What is being said? (2) What does it mean? (3) How does it apply? Etc.
If there is a break take the time to quickly review what was presented.
As soon as possible after the class add additional notes from what you remem-ber.
Prepare a quiz or test over material to check what you have learned.
Form or join a study group where the subject is discussed, explored, and ap-plied.
Don’t continually look at the people around you. Focus on the teacher, etc.
If possible choose short lectures—20 minutes would be ideal.
If appropriate and encouraged, ask questions.
Research deeper into the subject: “become an expert.”
If at all possible, and as soon as possible, teach the material.
Make a plan to intentionally practice points relevant to your daily life.
Be excited about the class. Tell others about it, etc.
Ask for a conference with the teacher if you have major questions, etc.
Yes, you can learn by paying attention. Always remember that Satan doesn’t want you to pay attentions. His mission is to steal the word out of your heart (cf. Luke 8:11, 12). As leaders, we must train ourselves and those who follow how to be more attentive.
Watch for additional Power Points for Leaders!