How can managers communicate more effectively in today’s business world? One key is to create focused messages that grab the listener’s attention. In an age when people have too much information and too little time, you have 8 seconds—the length of the average attention span—to capture and hold someone’s attention, according to Paul Hellman, an expert in high-stakes communications.
Hellman, the author of You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World (AMACOM, 2017), talked about the importance of focused messages in a podcast interview with AMA. He suggests that what is important in any communication is what the audience hears, remembers, and will act on. So to focus your messages, you must assume the viewpoint of the audience.
“What I believe we have to do is ‘be the audience,’” Hellman said. To achieve that goal, you must “imagine that you are the listener.”
3 questions that lead to focused messages
Hellman says that every audience, large or small, has three questions when someone is delivering a message. Those questions are:
- Why am I listening to you?
- What exactly are you saying?
- What am I supposed to do with this information?
These questions should guide the content of your communications, including those delivered by email, in one-on-one conversations, and in presentations. “To focus a message basically means to come prepared…with the answer for those three questions,” Hellman said.
As you craft your messages, remember that people do not have enough time to process all the information they receive today. So be aware of the amount of detail you communicate. While technical audiences will want detailed information, Hellman said, most audiences “want you to come in or to send an email that gives them the headline news.”
Hellman’s advice for presentations is to open in a way that makes you slightly different from other presenters. He has seen many people who try to look like everyone else at the podium, and thereby “squander the first few seconds” of their presentation. This is the very time when they must capture people’s attention.
“We are hard-wired as human beings to pay attention to things that are different,” he said. “So the advice for the first few seconds is to be slightly different. Don’t do anything career risky. Just be slightly different.”
Listen to the full podcast with Paul Hellman.
For information on other business topics, visit AMA’s archive of Edgewise podcasts.
Business leaders need to present their ideas with conviction, control, and poise. With the right strategies, you can develop your presentation skills and become a confident speaker.