With so many distractions competing for people’s attention, does your content for internal communications or learning have what it takes to keep the spotlight firmly focused on it?
Over the past few years our behaviour online has become more skittish – we flick through posts on social media, or visit websites for only a few seconds before leaving. A recent study by researchers in Denmark bears this out, suggesting that digital media is narrowing our attention spans due to the sheer volume of information at our fingertips.
Similarly, streaming platforms have changed how we listen to music. We can flick between tracks until something holds our attention. “All the streaming data shows our attention spans are getting shorter”, says songwriter Helienne Lindvall.
And, fascinatingly, this is affecting the music itself. Songwriters now have to create music that keeps people listening – their livelihoods literally depend on it. Tom Grey, songwriter, producer and member of 90’s band Gomez, explains: “A stream counts after 30 seconds. So, the most important thing to a songwriter is to keep you in until you get to the 31st second, the moment at which they earn their tiny micropayment.”
Attentive songwriters now start by thinking about how they can instantly grab attention, draw listeners in, and keep them hooked.
What does this tell us for engaging with employees?
While you might not instantly connect the music industry with the worlds of L&D, internal comms or employee engagement, there are some obvious parallels. Both are delivering increasing amounts of digital content to an easily distracted, attention-scarce audience.
So, what can we learn from today’s successful musicians about captivating our audiences’ attention? Here are four tips.
1. Grab immediate attention
Songwriter and producer Tre Jean-Marie knows he needs to catch the listener right from the beginning with something catchy and distinctive: “I try to make sure that we’re going straight into the song whether that be some earworm or a chorus”.
You need your learning content to capture your audience’s attention upfront; something distinctive that will spark their interest, and whet their appetite for what’s to come.
Don’t be afraid to try something different. Gaining initial attention is all about standing out with something catchy or distinctive.
2. Make it sticky!
Earworms, catchy bits of music or lyrics that get stuck in our brain, help to keep the song in the forefront of our minds.
What turns a tune into an earworm? Researcher James Kellaris identifies repetition as a key feature. And a separate analysis of popular songs from 1960 to 2015 has shown that the lyrics have become more repetitive every single year.
It's all about using hooks well. Songwriters often repeat hooks in the intro, pre-chorus, chorus and bridge to catch and hold listeners’ short attention spans.
You can harness this power of repetition to aid memory retention for your learning and communications content too. Be clear about what you need learners to understand and do, and repeat it often. And, if you can wrap up your messages in a repeatable and catchy mnemonic, aphorism, rhyme or even an accompanying song, you’ll help make them even more memorable.
3. Build an emotional connection
Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses in the listener, both individually and at a group level. It’s a way of telling a story, and connecting with the audience’s emotions.
Musical emotions and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared. “Part of the reason for the durable power of music appears to be that listening to music engages many parts of the brain, triggering connections and creating associations”, explains Professor Shahram Heshmet.
For memorable communication, harnessing the power of emotions through music and stories is a powerful way to build connection with the content, and help your audience remember what they have learned.
4. Keep it focused
Pop songs are one minute and 13 seconds shorter on average than they were 20 years ago. In addition, musical ideas are compressed, as Helienne Lindvall explains: “harmonic range stripped back, chord progressions repeated, lyrics as hooks in their own right.”
So being focused is vital. For learning and communication, overloading the audience with too much content can lead to cognitive overload, making it difficult for the audience to spot and digest the key points.
Daniel Levitin, psychology professor and author of The Organized Mind, explains that our conscious minds can only pay attention to three or four things at once. “If you get much beyond that, you begin to exercise poorer judgment, you lose track of things and you lose your focus.”
Give your audience a helping hand by stripping out any content that doesn’t contribute to what you need them to remember. Keep it simple and to the point.
If you have more to say, break it down into smaller chunks that can be consumed in a separate sitting.
In doing so, you’ll ensure your key messages take centre stage and help ensure they get the attention they require.
Tapping into the power of music
Music itself can be a powerful and effective component of learning. At Acteon, we’ve used music and songs successfully with several clients for impactful communication campaigns.
We’re sharing insights and ideas for how you could make use of music for your messaging in a free webinar, ‘Can't get you out of my head: Using music to make messages stick’. Join us on Thursday 1st July at 10am.