Recognising the need for speed

A recent research study has suggested that we increasingly have a need for more speed in how we consume content. Does this suggest that there are lessons to be drawn about how we communicate, particularly there is a mix of generations in the workplace?

According to a study by YouGov, there is a cultural shift underway in how we are consuming our content. The research studied interaction with streaming services such as Netflix, Apple TV and YouTube for video content and the likes of Spotify for the consumption of podcasts.

I first discovered the speed dial while listening to an interesting, but rather long, audiobook written by a former Speaker of the House of Commons. To begin with it was a little odd to adjust to the x1.5 setting, but it wasn’t long before my ears tuned into the change in pitch and pace. Switching back to x1 I was shocked at just how slow it sounded!

So it was fascinating to read that 27 per cent of respondents in the YouGov study stream television at a higher playback speeds and that 13 per cent of podcast listeners even claim to periodically boosting their audio to super-speed while listening to podcasts. Inevitably this practice was more popular amongst those under 25 (twice as many tweaked the speed compared to the over 25s surveyed).

Respondents indicated that, just as I had found, their brains soon adapted to these higher speeds. What was more revelatory however, were study comments which suggested this practice induced a need for even faster speeds. This was put down to the social media effect, with one participant decrying that “Tik Tok has literally ruined my attention span.”

But this is not just another ‘Gen Z can’t concentrate’ story, because a recent scientific study hints that growing up in the digital age has given younger people an evolutionary edge in information absorption.

It found that younger people can consume information at higher speeds without learning impairment. Not so with older study subjects, who claimed they often struggled to keep up, finding their ‘minds frequently ‘wandering’.

So what’s the takeaway from this? Well, if you’re a dogmatic graduate of the old school, then it would be easy to tut and dismiss this as another negative sign of the times. However, savvy Boomers and Gen Xers will take this a sign that the tide is turning. To deny it risks casting oneself as the office King Canute!

I have written many times about the need to avoid presentation traps such as constricting the audience with Powerpoint, dulling down by being too technical and the power of less being more.

Now more than ever, office Boomers and Gen Xers needs to make a conscious effort to walk in the shoes of younger generations in order to understand how they are consuming content to enable better engagement.

It’s the reason why those long emails don’t get read, why attention spans zone out in corporate meetings and why everyone’s scanning the long report for the ‘take away’ (although to be fair, that is not a new phenomenon!).

Be aware that a rambling conversation containing a number of action points is a luxury from the past. As work and life has become more structured around multi-tasking, concise conversations and a clear roadmap of priorities and expectations are the best way to grab focus.

Another tip is to reduce the choice overload – email, WhatsApp, Slack, Trello…. There are so many channels to communicate now that the system of comms networks often resembles a bad hair day. If communications are being lost then streamline the system.

And embrace the brief. A succinct one pager will always be consumed more thoroughly than a sprawling 3 pager. The same goes for presentations. Stick to the 6 x 6 rule – 6 bullet points per slide, and 6 words per point. Also be aware of how much microcopy we consume daily while navigating our digital devices as this is also feeding our culture for speed and brevity.

The trend for speed need is definitely rising, and we should be aware of this. Shorter attention spans do not spell the end of the attention span. It merely signposts that we are spanning our attentions in a different way. Maybe I lost you at ‘According to a study by YouGov’…!