We’ve probably all seen the headlines that human attention spans are on the decline, with many noting that short-form social media and information overload are to blame. Yet research has shown that humans are actually capable of maintaining sustained attention 

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already busted the myth that humans have an 8-second attention span, less than that of a goldfish (the shocking “statistic” that took the internet by storm in 2015 that has since been debunked).   

The key to holding that sustained attention lies in the quality of the content being consumed. When the content presents as a well-told story that people can invest in, they are more than willing to dedicate hours on end to consuming content.    

  • One study by Deloitte found that nearly three quarters (73%) of Americans binge-watch video content, with Millennial and Gen Z viewers reporting an average of five hours of viewing in a single sitting.  
  • On average, Americans spend over two hours a day on social media alone. Although these platforms do push short-form content to grab attention in faster intervals, they don’t do so at the expense of losing our attention. 

Why our brains love stories 

Whether it’s a blockbuster hit or breaking news, a well-told narrative has the power to engage listeners for extended periods of time. Our brains love stories – and it’s scientifically proven.   

Stay with us, we’re about to get really technical: 

Storytelling activates the brain in multiple regions, including the visual and auditory centers. When done well, it elicits a psychological response to the three neurochemicals (Whew – we told you this was scientific!). You’ve likely heard of cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin – here’s how they work in a storytelling context: 

  • Cortisol triggers our initial awareness 
  • Dopamine rewards us for sticking with the story 
  • Oxytocin encourages empathy, allowing us to identify with the story or its characters in some way 

To simplify: our brains are literally wired for story. When we listen to a compelling story, our brains are fully engaged. Not only are we more likely to maintain sustained attention for the duration of the narrative, but we’re also more likely to remember it long afterward.  

Using story to capture (and keep) attention 

  1. Don’t fear long-form content: Short content has its place, but if you really want your audience to remember what you have to say, lean into a key value that longer-form storytelling can achieve. This doesn’t mean you have to create feature length films, but allow yourself enough time to ensure you’re able to include all key story elements. But… 
  2. Keep it simple: Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much information at once. Focus on one main idea or theme and use examples and anecdotes to support it.  
  3. Start with a hook: The opening of a story is crucial for grabbing initial attention. (The cortisol trigger, remember?). An interesting fact, compelling question or surprising statement can pique your audience’s interest. 
  4. Be descriptive: To fully engage your audience, use language that paints a vivid picture in their minds. Use sensory details to create an experience that will keep your audience following along (there’s that dopamine hit!). 
  5. Make it relatable: Use examples and stories that resonate with your audience. When people see themselves in the story, they’re more likely to be engaged and invested in the outcome (oxytocin: activated!). 
  6. End with a call to action: A well-told story can be a powerful motivator, so use your narrative to inspire action. End with a clear next step that will encourage your audience to act. 

Really, it’s as simple as this:
tell a good story and people will listen. 

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We believe in the power of stories. 

At Overflow, we understand how to tap into the human capacity for sustained attention using captivating storytelling. Work with us to harness the power of long-form content and engage your audience using descriptive, relatable narratives that lead to a clear end goal.