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What Spotify's 'Skipping' Study Can Teach You About Consumer Attention Span

How insights from Spotify's song-skipping data can help you make your next meeting or presentation more captivating.
PAUL HUDSON/FLICKR
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Music blogger Paul Lamere recently analyzed Spotify's data for skipping frequencies.

He wanted to learn more about the circumstances under which Spotify users are skipping a song and moving on to the next one, rather than listening to the tune all the way through. 

For business leaders, who are constantly trying to hold the attention of a room during meetings or presentations, the insights are startling. For example, Lamere assessed how often a song gets skipped in the first five seconds that it's playing. His finding? "The likelihood that a song will be skipped within the first five seconds is an astounding 24.14 percent," he writes.

In other words, nearly one out of four songs gets skipped before it even has five seconds to make an impression. 

Lamere compared this five-second skipping rate to skipping rates after 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and before a song finishes. Here are the results:  

  • First 5 seconds: 24.14 percent likelihood of skipping to the next song.
  • First 10 seconds: 28.97 percent
  • First 30 seconds: 35.05 percent
  • Before song finishes: 48.6 percent

Lamere's numbers are an eye-opening reminder of how important it is to seize the attention of your audeince in the first few moments. Especially, the stats suggest, the younger members of your audience: "Young teenagers have the highest skipping rate," writes Lamere. "Well above 50 percent, but as the listener gets older their skipping rate drops rather dramatically, to reach the skipping nadir of about 35 percent."  

In other words, even ostensibly patient older listeners--you know, those who remember when you had to stand up and flip the vinyl record--skip more than one out of three songs. 

While Lamere's study is new, the business takeaway is something that meetings experts have been touting for years. For example, Patrick Lencioni, author of Death By Meeting, believes it's vital to hook listeners within the first 10 minutes: 

The key to making meetings more engaging--and less boring--lies in identifying and nurturing the natural level of conflict that should exist. One of the best places to learn how to do this is Hollywood. Directors and screenwriters learned long ago that movies need conflict to hold the interests of their audiences. Viewers need to believe that there are high stakes on the line, and they need to feel the tension that the characters feel. What is more, they realized if they didn't nurture that conflict--or drama--in the first 10 minutes of a movie, audiences would lose interest and disengage. Leaders of meetings need to do the same by putting the right issues--often the most controversial ones--on the table at the beginning of their meetings.

Writing a hooky tune or a Hollywood script is one thing. In actual meetings, what can leaders do to make sure the attendees are engaged and invested in the subject from the outset? One method is to ask questions that bring latent conflicts to the surface. "When people seem to be holding back their opinions, the leader must draw out feedback and put all issues on the table to be discussed," is what Jeff Gibson, Lencioni's colleage at The Table Group, once told me. 

The key: Don't think of conflict as a negative. Think of it as the natural by-product of an intelligent group discussing a complex topic.

As for presentations, it's no secret: Hooking the audience in the first 30 seconds is vital. If you're presenting to executives or investors, well, you know what they're usually looking for: bulletpoints and takeaways, up front. "Say you're given 30 minutes to present. When creating your intro, pretend your whole slot got cut to 5 minutes," advises presentations expert Nancy Duarte on the Harvard Business Review blog. "This will force you to lead with all the information your audience really cares about--high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations, a call to action. State those points clearly and succinctly right at the start, and then move on to supporting data, subtleties, and material that's peripherally relevant."

Of course, it's hardly a news flash that hooking listeners (or readers or viewers) at the outset is important. But there's a reason that experts like Lencioni and Duarte are in business: Sometimes, even talented executives need to be reminded about the fundamentals of one-to-many communication. On the subject of reminders, Lencioni is fond of quoting the legendary English author and critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Johnson famously said: "People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed."

Keep that in mind, the next time someone on your team forgets an obvious step. And remember: Make it catchy, and make it fast, the next time you lead a meeting or give a talk. 

Last updated: May 8, 2014




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