If the average human attention span begins to wane after about 5 minutes of listening, it will serve you to learn how to communicate your messages in 2 minute comments. (Of course we can hold our attention for longer-- 6 minutes for a PechaKucha, 18 minutes for a Ted Talk, 2 hours for a movie, and 15 hours for a Netflix binge.)
But, in general, if a message does not include cognitive hooks like danger, sexuality, or humor-- the listener’s attention will wander within a couple of minutes.
It’s best to accept this cognitive benchmark. Sure, you can hack people’s attention, using various methods refined by teachers, entertainers, and marketers… but, in your day to day interactions, it’s best to keep this 2 minute rule in mind.
You may have spent some time crafting a 1 minute message or an “elevator pitch”, hoping to get through to an investor or venture capitalist. Now, imagine if you used that clarity and economy of language in every statement throughout your day!
Take this article for example. Using an elevator pitch formula, I’ll encapsulate this article into two sentences:
“Teachers, researchers, and marketers have found that people tune out verbal information after a couple of minutes. Because of this, it is beneficial to practice the art of communicating in clear statements, less than two minutes long.”
This is not to say that you limit all your human communications to brief, rapid-fire statements… This two minute guideline is a tool for more effective dialogue. Despite your occasional desire to rant or lecture, it's important to realize that your message will be better received if you chunk it up into segments.
According to the National Training Laboratories, people retain less than 10% of what they hear in a lecture, yet, when engaged in discussion, people retain approximately 50% of the information. Appreciating this, you can use the two minute rule to help yourself avoid lecturing while improving your ability to engage others in discussion.
Even better: If you understand that people’s retention rate exceeds 90% when they are given the opportunity to teach, you can use the two minute rule to facilitate other people in the act of teaching you. In doing this, you invert the ineffective communication method of lecture and create a mutually beneficial learning experience which improves the attention and retention of all people involved.
The best teachers, are those who empower students to teach as they learn.