You probably knew--or suspected--that the average adult attention span was short.

But how short is it? And how should you act on this information? 

In a blog posted earlier this week, Pandora VP of sales and marketing Susan Panico referenced a commonly cited number from the Statistic Brain Research Institute saying that the average adult attention span is 8.25 seconds. But as technical writer Ken McCall has pointed out on LinkedIn, the concept of attention span is more nuanced than that. So much depends upon what you find compelling, what else is on your mind, or how much sleep or coffee you've had lately.

What's your 'attention' strategy?

Nonetheless, Panico's larger point is spot-on: Leaders and marketers need to develop an "attention strategy." Her suggestions for how to do this are based on data Pandora has gathered about mobile technology, music, and millennials. "With over 41 million millennials each spending 27 hours per month listening to Pandora, we are able to glean a ton of insights around this audience," she writes.

The most important insight Pandora has gleaned is that the group--ages 18-34--craves personalization. And that personalization depends largely on the music they loved between the ages of 16 and 22. "There are certain songs that take me back to prom night, an all-girls roadtrip my college freshman year or a Kings' game when 'The Great One' would hit the ice," she writes. "Teens and millennials are making their most memorable music moments now. That's a powerful place for brands to be."

And if you're not properly personalizing the experience to reach your customers' emotional touchstones? Then the customer is likely to skip your song, your tweet, your blog post, or your commercial. 

Interestingly, one of Pandora's rivals, Spotify, conducted a study last year about attention spans. Specifically, music blogger Paul Lamere analyzed Spotify's data for "skipping" frequencies. That is, he wanted to learn more about the circumstances under which Spotify users skip a song and move on to the next one, rather than listening to the tune all the way through.

For leaders hoping to hold the attention of a room during meetings or presentations, Lamere's insights are startling. For example, he 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

Is anyone still listening?

Lamere's numbers are an eye-opening reminder of how important it is to seize the attention of your audience in the first few moments. What's more, his findings are consistent with Panico's conclusions about millennials: "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."

Of course, the business takeaway here is something 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....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. 

Writing a hooky tune or a Hollywood script is one thing. In actual meetings, what can leaders do to make sure attendees are engaged 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 colleague at The Table Group, once told me.

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 looking for: bulletpoints and takeaways, up front. "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."

Keep that in mind, the next time you find yourself drifting off during a colleague's presentation--or if you see a colleague drifting off during one of yours.

Published on: Oct 2, 2015