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How to improve attention span and concentration during online meetings?

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7 min

Attention span is one of the most critical factors for effective communication. Compared to the 2000s, when our attention span used to be 12 seconds, it has now decreased by more than 60%. Researchers have investigated many reasons for it, but browsing the Internet is one of the leading causes. 

Think about it, it’s much harder to focus in the virtual world where millions of distractions surround us. Now that we all rely on our devices to make remote work happen, there’s a big question left to answer. 

What’s happening to our attention span, and what can we do to improve it? 

Focus, concentration, and types of attention

What’s the difference between focus and concentration?

Both focus and concentration contribute to our attention, but they are not the same. Knowing the difference between the two terms is important for understanding attention span. 

Imagine that many people are moving on a street. There is a friend of yours somewhere among them, but you can’t find him. To kick off your search, at the beginning, you’ll look for a familiar person randomly. Then you’ll narrow your attention from the whole crowd and focus on individual passersby. In simple words, to focus means to pay attention to a particular person or object of interest. Now, sustaining your focus for a long time is hard: to stay committed to your goal of finding your friend, you’ll have to concentrate. Concentration means keeping your attention focused.

But what about our main topic of the day - attention?

What does attention mean?

Attention is “the act of directing the mind to listen, see, or understand,” while attention span generally refers to a time scale for which one can perform this act without interruption. The more the virtual events grow - the more people talk about the relationship between attendees’ low attention span and event engagement. 

Our previous research shows that attention span usually lasts 10-15 minutes, but many external resources contain a different number, arguing that our attention span lasts only 8 seconds. 

Don’t be mistaken! Attention span can’t range from 8 seconds to 15 minutes - we are simply talking about different types of attention.

Here’s a brief overview of 4 attention types: 

1. Sustained attention

Sustained attention refers to focusing on a single task, such as watching a product presentation or lecture. It can last up to an hour or more.

2. Selective attention 

Selective attention lets you filter out background noises and distractions. There are many ways to make selective attention work for you, like using noise-canceling headphones or practicing meditation in the long term.

3. Alternating attention

Alternating attention is prevalent when you have to perform two completely different tasks, such as playing a video game and writing an email.

4. Divided attention 

Divided attention is the type of attention that you can measure in seconds. For some, it resembles multitasking - the ability to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. 

To improve the quality of the event and boost employee engagement, event organizers should target sustained attention and do their best to keep sustained attention span as long as possible. 

How to increase the attention span of your audience?

First of all, remember that attention span, like memory, is a cognitive ability that we must train individually in order to sustain and strengthen. As an external force, you can’t change your audience’s attention span completely, but you can do a lot to help - at least in the short term. 

Below are 5 tips for increasing the attention span of your audience:

1. Get to know your audience first.

People get distracted or focused in all types of ways - don’t assume that your audience is all the same. Psychological Science research reports that attention span changes throughout the lifespan, with people in their 40’s having the longest attention span. Study your attendees’ demographics and adjust the event length (including sessions) accordingly. A general rule of thumb is to keep your online meetings under 45 minutes. Regardless of their age, keeping attention for several hours straight puts a high cognitive strain on the participants. 

Bonus tip: ask your participants directly if they feel distracted during the event. This is an easy way to know if they might use a short break or are good to go on.

2. Implement a 20-20-20 rule.

It means that every 20 minutes, a person has to focus on an object that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This rule helps your eyes rest and can be applied at in-person, hybrid, and virtual meetings. If you organize an event, encourage your audience to look away from the screen once in a while, and you’ll notice how much more attentive they’ll be. 

3. Insert physical activities into your virtual routine.

Don’t hesitate to do a little break and introduce an energizer to your audience. During the pandemic, people attended many activities online, including dance and fitness classes, so you should consider inviting a professional to run your audience through a full-body stretch during a break. After all, having a little physical activity is one of the oldest known ways to increase someone’s focus.

4. Choose an interactive platform for your meetings.

Keeping your audience engaged and genuinely interested in the meeting will increase their attention span. Consider adding engagement tools, like live polls, surveys, Q&A sessions, breakout rooms to your remote meetings platform. Learn more about our interactive features. 

5. Remind participants to drink water!

As simple as it sounds, drinking water might be the best way to increase focus. Not everything has to be complicated to work, so take a minute and remind your audience to have a glass of water! A recent study by the University of Westminster found that as little as 300 ml of water can increase your attention up to 25%. Who could’ve thought that drinking water is a sure helper for critical tasks?

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Published on

October 8, 2021

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