Attention spans are not shrinking, but rather evolving to be more selective, according to a new research study from audience presentation platform Prezi. The firm’s 2018 State of Attention report measures the effectiveness of content and presentations and how they resonate with business professionals across demographics, including Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers—and reveals that the key to engaging content is a compelling narrative combined with stimulating visuals and dialogue.

According to the survey, the ability to maintain focus has actually improved over time, despite an ever-growing mountain of available content. This suggests that the attention of business pros can be captured for long periods of time with compelling content that includes great stories and interesting, gripping visuals.

No, Millennials’ attention spans aren't shrinking—they're getting more selective

More than two thousand business U.S. professionals participated in the study, conducted by Kelton Research. Key findings include:

Respondents reported that they have increased attention spans, but have become more selective in the content they choose to consume:

  • 59 percent of professionals say they can give a piece of content their undivided attention without getting distracted more now than they could one year ago.
  • 49 percent admit they’ve become more selective about the content they consume.

The key to engaging content is a compelling story and visuals:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 respondents said a strong narrative (88 percent) or the story (87 percent) behind what’s being presented is critical in maintaining the engagement of their audience.
  • 55 percent of business professionals say a great story captures their focus and keeps them engaged with content.
  • In regards to presentations, 79 percent of business professionals said the use of animated visuals in presentations is effective in keeping the audience engaged.

The costs of not keeping attention for business professionals are high:

  • 95 percent of business professionals say they multitask during meetings.
  • Around one-third of these multitaskers lose track of (37 percent) or have trouble retaining (31 percent) the information that was being discussed.
  • One in five admit multitasking in meetings has caused them to make an error in their work.

No, Millennials’ attention spans aren't shrinking—they're getting more selective

“Our attention spans being shorter than a goldfish’s is a grossly inaccurate rumor. These days it’s common to binge-watch a series for six or more hours, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to pay attention in a meeting. You just need to couple your content with a compelling story and great visuals,” said Nadjya Ghausi, vice president of marketing at Prezi, in a news release. “We at Prezi believe that attention spans aren’t shrinking—they’re simply evolving, and the time to cater to new preferences isn’t tomorrow; it’s now.”

No, Millennials’ attention spans aren't shrinking—they're getting more selective

Millennials: Key to the future of effective storytelling and presenting

Millennials, according to Pew Research Center, became the largest generation present in the workforce in 2017, making them the most important group to cater to when seeking the attention of business audiences. The content that Millennials find most engaging aligns with how storytelling needs to evolve in business—that is, it needs to include more visuals, animation, and a compelling narrative:

  • More Millennial business professionals (90 percent) than Gen Xers (85 percent) or Boomers+ (82 percent) shifted their focus away from the speaker during the most recent presentation or sales pitch they saw live.
  • More than one-third of Millennials say they only engage with content that they feel has a great story or theme.
  • 82 percent of Millennial presenters say animated visuals are effective in keeping an audience engaged.

No, Millennials’ attention spans aren't shrinking—they're getting more selective

The results from the study suggest that attention spans are not only intact, but also getting longer in younger generations. More effective storytelling in business can also help bridge gaps between different generations in the workforce. The study found that more than half (55 percent) of all business professionals say a great story captures their focus and keeps them engaged with content.

Download the full report here.

The State of Attention survey was conducted by Kelton Global between February 27, 2018 and March 7, 2018among 2,036 Business Professionals in the United States of America working in an office building, using an email invitation and an online survey. 

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