Meetings & Your Brain

The ‘Waning Attention Span’ Challenge

Our staff is focused on the launch of our new website in a few short weeks. One of the features of our site is easier-to-consume versions of our magazine content, and that’s a good thing.

We tend to skim content online, wanting to get what we need quickly from a story and move on.

Yet a hallmark of Convene is the depth with which we explore issues and topics related to the meetings industry. That’s not going to go away, because it’s important to have both — the ability to get quick takeaways as well as the opportunity to read about a topic more fully if you choose.

The value of investing the time to fully understand a subject was reinforced for me when I read a short interview with the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. When Burns was asked if he feels pressure to make his films shorter in “this age of waning attention spans,” here was his response:

When The Civil War came out, in 1990, MTV had popularized a style of fast-paced video, with lots of cuts and action. Critics said no one would watch my film, but it got huge ratings. When The War came out, in 2007, there were no longer just 15 channels but 515, and critics were certain no one would watch it. They were wrong. And in 2014 The Roosevelts drew more viewers than Downton Abbey.

There’s a deluge of information in the world, but very little understanding of it. We all know what it’s like to browse the Huffington Post and not remember any of it 20 minutes later. Sustained attention is what makes companies work well and art work well, and it’s what all human beings crave no matter how distracted they are. Meaning accrues in duration.

The challenge of shorter attention spans is not going to go away, and it’s something you as a meeting professional deal with when crafting your conference programs. What makes us want to spend the time to watch a Ken Burns documentary is obviously the quality of the film and the richness of the experience — something we’ll continue to aim for inConvene and the goal of every meeting professional.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.