Did It Hold Your Attention?

I’m sitting in my office, eating a banana and drinking iced tea, and I’m researching attention economy and how human attention is a commodity and now a scarce resource. This fall, I’m teaching a graduate seminar to aid instructors in how to teach advanced writing, and I’m incorporating new research on holding student attention. (I will also have new cowboy boots to wear, but that’s way off topic. I’m supposed to focus on attention.)

It’s fascinating research. The urgent question for me: What or who, with the massive amount of information available to us in any given moment, wins our attention?

Why? How?

And for you: How will your writing, teaching, or speaking gain any attention in this sea of competing words?

I read this from Thomas Davenport, author of The Attention Economy: “Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success.” I consider new challenges to teaching, speaking, and writing in this atmosphere. What kind of teaching holds attention? What kind of writing does the same?

Teaching student writers how to direct and hold attention now shapes my curriculum. I know what you might be thinking as you scroll through Instagram or Facebook: Some might argue that we must now resort to photographs, video, soundbites, and fragments of sentences. You don’t have time for anything else. But wait! Hold on! Certain ancient practices to direct and hold attention still succeed in the classroom, in writing, and in my own role as a consumer of information.

These three practices include personal connection and rapport building, posing intriguing questions, and providing sensory detail.

Picture yourself talking and writing and teaching about the real you–we’ll pay attention; we can’t resist you! We’re made for human connection and community; our soul awakens to it and thirsts for it. Then, think about asking a truly great question–that sparks a little controversy– to open up a whole world of potential knowledge; the mind likes to resolve dilemmas and seeks harmony. And finally, think about placing your information in the context of a story or a setting that we can see. Include a memorable image.

In summary: If you want to hold attention, connect your audience to yourself in vulnerable way, create a problem to solve with a great question, and form verbal images with all the five senses to engage them.

Did you read this far? Notice that I did everything I recommended in this very post. And you know what you’ll most remember?

My cowboy boots. Right?




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