If you want to hold someone's attention you first need to know who they are and what they need. Then we hear that people's attention span keeps getting smaller. Is it? Today I look into attention spans, and what makes things interesting.
I asked my audience what thought made things interesting. Thanks to everyone who contributed including:
Craig From http://www.inglespodcast.com/
Thomas from www.novelmarketing.com
Harris from Wild Talk (XFL Podcast)
Orlando from www.hablandodetecnologia.com/
Carey from Podcastification
Andres from Colmillo Roquero
Brandon from Florida Focus Podcast
Bill from the Stroke Cast
Kim from the Pharmacist's Voice
Profit From Your Podcast Book Release
The long-awaited (THANKS COVID) book Profit from Your Podcast: Turn your Listeners into Livelihood is now available for order on Amazon.
The Myth of the Human Attention Spans and Goldfish
If you repeat something enough times, eventually people will start to think its true (sometimes called the illusion of truth effect, validity effect, truth effect, or the reiteration effect). If you Google “Human Attention Span” you will see the goldfish headline over and over. If you're not familiar with this, the concept is the human attention span had shrunk from twelve seconds to nine seconds. This is supposed to be less than the attention span of a Goldfish. Why wouldn't you talk about this “study” after all it came from Microsoft, right? Here is the PDF. Publications like Time, USA Today, the Guardian and man more quoted this “Study.”
The problem is nobody quotes the source when they talk about people having the attention span of a Goldfish. If they did it was the Microsoft study. The problem is Microsoft (Global) didn't conduct the study. The report (from 2015) was done by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada, who surveyed 2,000 Canadians and also studied the brain activity of 112 people as they carried out various tasks. The part that everyone focused on (the shrinking attention span) was actually a footnote in the study for another source called Statistic Brain. In a BBC article about this, they called the information on the Static Brain website, “infuriatingly vague.”
To cut to the chase – our attention spans are fine.
But What About YouTube?
According to this article, Each YouTube average view duration was somewhere around 50-60% of the total video length. For most videos, an average view duration in the 70-80% range is performing well. These percentages often are a few minutes of time. This boosts the “we have short attention span theories.” Here is my theory of what is going on.
We Are Better At Detecting Bullcrap
I can hear 10 seconds of a band and know if I want to stay. I can hear about the same length of a podcast and do the same thing (which is why you podcast opening is so important). For me, when someone starts off the show with, “I don't know…. kind of a slow news day….. not sure what I'm going to talk about…. but its Thursday and I publish on Thursday….
I press delete immediately before this person wastes 40 minutes of my time.
We Have Better Options
I know Milton Berle was known as Mr. Television. His Texaco Star Theater from 1948-1954 lead to him being known as “Uncle Miltie.” His show was popular and noted for its unpredictable live performances. However, for me if I watch old reruns of this it bores me to tears. How is this man “Mr. Television.”? It's simple. Uncle Miltie was up against a test pattern. It's hard to win your time slot when there were only four channels.
It's Not Our Attention Span that is Down – It's Our Tolerance of Bad Content
Any study that shows our attention span is going down, I think we really need to dig into how they did their study. I feel (and this is just an opinion based on a study of one) that we can detect bad content faster than we used to, and we know there is a firehose of content to drink from. With this in mind, life is too short to listen to bad podcasts.
Look at the Apple Top 200 Episodes
VP of Podcaster Relations of Libsyn.com Rob Walch broke out these stats. When it comes to the top 200 episodes in Ap ple, the Average was 67 minutes. The median was 58 (up from 55 in 2019). 80.5% of the top 200 in 2020 are over 40 minutes (up from 6.6% in 2019).
Look at Netflix
It takes 5 days on average to binge-watch a series on Netflix.
There are 8.4 million of those enthusiasts across the globe who will try to finish a series in the first 24 hours after it’s released.
A Forbes article mentioned that it often takes five days to binge-watch popular series. Stranger Things (one of their most popular shows) takes 21 hours and 49 minutes to watch all three seasons (25 episodes).
A survey held in October 2019 in the United States revealed that more than 50 percent of adults aged under 45 years old reported watching all the episodes of a TV season on a streaming service at once.
The First Step Never Changes
The first step for every podcaster is the same: Know Your Audience. Paying attention to them enables you to make a connection. Attention leads to connection. Ron Howard was on the true stories show on Satelite radio talking about always screens his movies and checks in with the audience to see how the content is connecting with his audience.
What Is Interesting?
According to the dictionary: Someone or something that is interesting keeps your attention because he, she, or it is unusual, exciting, or has a lot of ideas.
Attention May Be Based on a Situation
Felix from the Latin Podcast Awards brought up that interest may be based on your current situation. This makes total sense. With my book coming out this month, I've been listening to podcasts about book marketing. A couple who listens to a Marriage Planning podcast probably won't continue after their happy event. An alert podcast host would have a second show filled with marriage tips to continue to serve their audience.
Keep this in mind when obsessing over your stats. Is your show seasonal? Wedding podcasts get very popular in the later Winter and Spring. (When people are planning weddings).
So How Long Should My Podcast Be?
The question isn't how long should it be, but more “How long can you hold their attention.” As always you need to know your WHY and you need to know your WHO.
If your goal is to keep your name in front of your audience, then maybe a short podcast a few times a week would work. If you're trying to position yourself as an expert, then taking a longer deep dive makes more sense.
If your podcast is for busy Moms, then it can't be 45 minutes because, well, THEY ARE BUSY MOMS. They don't have 45 minutes to listen to a podcast.
I always say the ideal podcast length is as long as it needs to be and not a minute more. My favorite quote from Valier Geller from the book “Beyond Powerful Radio” is there is no such thing as too long only too boring.
How To Be Interesting – OR – How to Not Be Boring
I've always said, when I look at what I consume (movies, books, podcasts, TV) that content makes me do one (or more) of the following:
If you're not doing any of the above, you're boring. It is somewhat that simple.
Here is a fun test. Put on your podcast and put your phone under a pillow so you can't understand what is being said, but listen for voice inflection.
Tease It Up
I recommend using stories from your life to make a point in your podcast. One way to grab people's attention is to set up the story with a tease. If I start off a story with, “I've only met one person I didn't like in podcasting” would I have your attention? However, if I say “Today I'm going to tell you about my day” there isn't much of a hook.
Use Your Voice
There are so many ways you can use your voice.
The speed of your speech, the voice inflection, the not of your voice.
If you feel passionate about something let that come through your microphone into the ears of your audience. Caleb Warren in a Tedx talk explained how showing your emotions in advertisements made the person in the advertisement “cooler.”
Pauses have power so don't completely eliminate them. They can show you are thinking, and it changes the rhythm of speech which can grab the attention of your audience.
Autonomy – Think Different
Autonomous is “existing or capable of existing independently.” So there is different such as the song HELP! by the Beatles starts with the chorus. Then there is recording six people using one microphone. Is that different? Yes. Would it sound horrible? Yes. Being different can help set you apart. Being autonomous. Apple's is a great example. Their products looked different and they told us to “think different.” You want to think differently, but also appropriate.
One of the hardest questions to answer in podcasting is “How am I going to be different.”
If You Want to Be a Maverick – Be a Maverick
Tyler Perry KNEW his content (after he tweaked it for seven years) would resonate with black audiences because they were underserved. Nobody believed him, and he did it anyway. Alanis Morrisette had done two albums in Canada. They were sugary sweet. Think
Keeping Attention Is Not Easy
I remember people love to discover new things. Influences love to be the person at the party talking about this new thing they found. Music fans are notorious for this. They will find a band, go to their shows, tell their friends. The band gets signed and puts out a record that goes global and those early fans lose interest because it's not new.
It's not that attention spans are getting smaller (they are not) but more our ability to know what we want and identify when we are NOT going to get it has grown. Know your audience, and give them what you want. Be your honest, transparent, vulnerable self to hold their attention. Use tools like your voice, your pacing, to grab their attention. Never stop your passion from coming out. Let people hear your passion.
Keep in mind you are somewhat doomed. If you stay 100% consistent, your audience may get bored. If you branch out and try new things, you may upset those who want the show to never change. I know… so be ready to embrace that no matter what you do – some people will leave.
Include any of these six to be more interesting:
- Tone of voice
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