If you’re able to sit down and read this article end-to-end without stopping to check your email or respond to a text, then you’re in the minority. So, if it’s nearly impossible to hold someone’s attention for 900 words, how are we expected to engage them in a 90-minute meeting? Or a three-day conference?

The Attraction of Distraction

The brain is hard-wired for novelty and short-term gratification—tasty foods, funny memes, and even its own passing thoughts. All of these things compete with our rational mind, which says things like: “I should eat healthy”, “I should finish this before I check my phone,” or “I should listen to what this speaker is saying.” With mobile technology constantly at our side, distractions are becoming the norm. Researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that cell phones are distracting when they are nearby, even if they are left unused (Thornton, Faires, Robbins, & Rollins, 2014). It turns out we can put away the sources of our distraction, but we can’t keep ourselves from thinking about them.

We often experience thoughts that are completely unrelated to our current task. So much so that researchers have coined the term “mind wandering” to represent our distracted mental state. According to a study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University (2010), we “mind wander” for almost half of our waking hours! Clearly, it’s hard to capture and keep people’s attention, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The most successful experiences and events effectively pull people out of their busy minds and buzzing phones and give them something worth paying attention to.

Want to know how to start winning the attention of your audience? Check out this blog post for some quick tips!