How to Keep Concise and Keep Attention

Submitted by on May 11, 2020

Now more than ever we are bombarded with information. Whether you’re binge watching news to learn the latest on Covid-19, or binge watching Netflix to escape, many of our minds are at capacity with what we can handle. In a time when attention spans are short and fragile, how can you ensure you stay concise and get your clients to really hear you?

Don’t bury the lead! 

When I worked in television news, that was the mantra. No one wants to hear all about a zoo opening, how many animals are there, where the zoo is located….and then oh yeah 20 lions escaped. That’s burying the lead. Leaving the most important information until the end.

I have 3 young kids in elementary school. When the school nurse calls, do I want her to spend a full minute asking me how I am and talking to me about the weather? No! I want her to start her conversation,  “Hi, this is the school nurse, everything is fine.” If one of my kids needed to be picked up from school, that’s the first thing I want to know too.

When you’re working with short attention spans, you don’t have time to drone on and on before you get to your point. You need to put your important information up front.

Yet we’re trained to speak backwards, we talk all about our details and then we deliver our big news, we set up the joke and then the punchline, we outline all our efforts and then talk about the payoff. 

In a time when people are struggling with information overload, you need to move your point up, deliver your lead right away and don’t waste time. Here’s how.

Before you engage with your clients, your boss, co-workers write down these three things,

  1. Need to know
  2. Nice to know
  3. Not important 

Then write down what you’d like to say, how you plan to start off the conversation and what you’d like to convey. 

Once you have a basic outline, start to organize your thoughts. 

  • The most important information should go under “Need to Know.”
  • Less pressing information should go next to “Nice to Know.” 
  • Anything left over in the “Not Important” column isn’t worth bringing into the conversation.

As you are organizing your thoughts, it can help to ask yourself, “If they don’t know this…will it matter?’

Here’s an example:

A nurse is calling a doctor at 1:00 a.m. from the hospital to tell her about a patient.

The nurse has a ton of information about the patient: This patient is a 65 year old male. The patient came into the hospital at midnight complaining of pain. The patient is cranky. The patient is with his wife and daughter. There aren’t a lot of hospital beds left. They’d like to try to discharge the patient as soon as possible. The doctor should come in as soon as possible to see the patient.

What’s the “Need to Know” - The doctor needs to come in as soon as possible.

“Nice to Know” - The patient is 65 complaining of pain. The patient came in at midnight. They  are low on hospital beds. The hospital would like to try to discharge the patient quickly if possible.

“Not Important” - The patient is with his wife. The patient is cranky.

How would you start that conversation if you were the nurse?

So often we just talk without a structure to what we’re saying. And without structure we can tend to ramble. Now isn’t the time to waste attention and come across as verbose. Take the time to figure out what people “Need to Know” and then place that first. 

Maybe your “Need to Know” is simply that you’re calling to check in and see how someone is. Either way, everyone you communicate with will appreciate the time you took to organize your thoughts and convey what’s important up front. You’ll come across as more concise, more thoughtful, and more strategic with your communication.