Communicating When People Can’t Pay Attention

I have an annoying habit. Okay, I have more than one, but only one I am willing to confess in this post. (Before you judge me too harshly, you have a couple too. Just sayin’.)

In conversations, I routinely start sentences and don’t finish them. 


Before I finish the sentence, my mind jumps to another topic, gets distracted by a moving object, or creates an objection to my statement.

Unfortunately, I thought this habit would improve with age, but it hasn’t.

I don’t want to make excuses, but how could it? Our world is full of distractions, with our phones and computers leading the way.

But a tiny stat buried in a Stephanie Chung article broke through the noise and captured my attention: “We know through recent studies regarding how the brain behaves during conversations that the brain has an attention span of approximately .8 seconds.”

.8 seconds.


As a member of the Leadercast Community, you have a valuable message and mission in the world. A message and a mission that people need to know about and embrace. A message and mission that will make people’s lives better.

So how do you capture attention when facing an attention span of .8 seconds?

Thankfully, Stephanie provides some concrete guidance.

  •  Ask Questions.

“Questions are proven to keep people’s brains engaged both during sales conversations and during daily life. Neuroscience studies have shown that asking questions literally hijacks the brain’s attention because it knows it’s about to be put on the spot. That’s a good thing.”

Specifically, ask questions where you are getting other people’s opinions and emotions involved.

Our brains are wired to solve problems, and a question triggers this problem-solving impulse.

For example, how did you feel the last time you went to the zoo?

Immediately, your mind tried to remember the last time you went to the zoo and what it felt like. 

(It was a hot summer morning at the National Zoo in DC, by the way.)

  •  Use storytelling.

People “don’t want to listen to you drone on about how great your product or service is. Instead, they want to know how it’s benefited someone like them in practice. You should be telling them engaging stories about how your product helped someone.”

In my previous career, when I could tell the audience was losing interest, I would start telling a story, and it was uncanny how people couldn’t help but listen to a story. 

After all, we don’t watch movies about facts, and the best comedians tell stories, not jokes.

  • Paint pictures.

“This is just a fun way of saying that you should speak using emotional, active, and descriptive language. According to experimental neuroscience research, when we use this emotionally evocative language, people get more involved.”

Using these three techniques will help you keep people’s attention in a constantly distracted world. 

In fact, following these three techniques will help me not get lost in the middle of my sentences.

One More Thing

I am excited about Stephanie’s new keynote at Human Intelligence. If she drops this kind of wisdom in a blog post, she will crush it on May 3.


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is Director of Content and Product Strategy for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

More Articles