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How to Build an Attention Bonfire

This article was based on the Talks at Google, “Captivology – The Science of Getting People’s Attention,” by Benn Parr.


Ben Parr: “Captivology” | Talks at Google


Information Overload

We live in a new era where we are constantly bombarded with information. A research study found that in 1986, we were presented with approximately 46 newspapers worth of information in a single day.  By the year 2006, that number had jumped to 176 newspapers worth of information. Today, it is an astounding, seven full HD-DVDs of information that we are all exposed to on a daily basis.



Consider the amount of information we must process each day and combine that with our multitasking habit. Another study found multitasking does not make us more productive, in fact, is does just the opposite.  The busiest multitaskers were actually found to be the least effective when it came to switching between tasks, completing tasks, and doing tasks with accuracy.


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The Science of Captivology

Now we have this combination of an ever-increasing amount of information combined with the unproductive habit of multitasking.  This creates an enormous amount of information that we must manage at any given moment. We are constantly trying to determine and defend what is worth our time and attention.  This has produced a society that is so focused on so many things that it is extremely difficult to capture anyone’s attention to share your ideas, your products, or your business.  

Captivology is the science behind who and what we decide to pay attention to.  This science can also be utilised to understand how to capture the attention of others.   In his Captivology research, Benn Parr was involved with over 1,000 research studies and interviews with people across a variety of industries.


The Bonfire Analogy

If you think of attention as a bonfire, your goal in capturing attention is to walk people through the stages of attention which are similar to creating a bonfire. You start with the spark, add the logs, and fan the flames to build the bonfire.  These stages of attention are first, immediate attention, second is short attention, and last is long attention.


Stage 1: Immediate Attention

The first stage is our immediate reaction to certain sights, sounds, and stimuli. It’s how we automatically react and pay attention to a situation. The reason we react is because it is a defense mechanism. In every situation, we must evaluate our safety in order to be able to protect ourselves as part of our survival instinct. So much of our attention is about activating our defense mechanisms to create a reaction.


Stage 2: Short Attention

The second stage moves from subconscious automatic attention to conscious directed attention.  This is when we start concentrating on something like a test or a speaker. It’s a short-term action run by our working memory that causes us to begin focusing on a subject. Working memory is a short-term memory system the processes the sights, sounds, and other stimuli around us.  It helps us determine which topics are worth our short-term time and attention, and more importantly what should be stored in long-term memory.


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Stage 3: Long Attention

The final stage of attention is a stage called long attention. Long attention is earned over time by building relationships. For example, it’s the difference between listening to a Beyonce song on the radio while you are driving your car and joining her fan group the Beyhive. Long attention is what drives brand loyalty and makes a lasting impression.


Rise Above the Noise

If you want to capture someone’s attention, you need to be able to create a spark and build upon it. Whether you are working on a marketing campaign or on a first date, you have to work through the three stages of attention to rise above the noise that is part of our daily lives. Captivology is an insightful and practical way to capture people’s attention and have your message heard.


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