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Taking heed: DCOB Prof. Sandra Dean explains the “Attention Economy” at international conference

In the business world, the ability to get people to allot more time to what you’re communicating or marketing has become something of a currency.

How companies and individuals can be taught to organize their verbiage so they counter what some believe are humans’ shrinking attention spans in a digital age was the subject of a recent workshop by Sandra Dean, Resource Professor of Business Communications in the Davis College of Business, at the annual Association for Business Communication international conference in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

The fast-paced, three-hour event had participants learn about the “Attention Economy” and apply a four-step planning method for business writing. Goals included avoiding writer’s block, increasing efficiency in the writing process and improving effectiveness.

An additional benefit was to provide an interactive way to teach business writing to college students, according to Dean’s presentation summary.

Business writing trends have been affected by social media including Twitter, and some researchers have concluded that the attention spans of the average adult is dropping.

“This should affect how we organize our annual reports, emails, proposals and even tweets,” Dean said. “Attention is the new business currency.”

Participants at the hands-on workshop looked at actual writing samples from the U.S. Postal Service, Sarasota County Transportation Department, Walt Disney World’s Swan Hotel and others to dissect their effectiveness, main points and “attention-getters.”

Dean has been in business as a corporate educator since 1989 and has successfully implemented the workshop for clients such as the Mayo Clinic, Florida Department of Transportation, AT&T, CSX Transportation, the City of Ft. Lauderdale, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and others.

As for the conference itself, Dean said she attended a presentation by Elizabeth Tomlinson, instructor of business communication at West Virginia University, who analyzed “Shark Tank” pitches and found that most “sharks” dropped out when issues of quantity were not addressed well.

“For instance, not knowing their numbers, their true valuation or their financial projections,” Dean said. “One thing I learned was how she uses this to get her students to analyze where pitches failed and then rewrite them.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for me to present as well as learn, and I’m grateful JU sponsored my attendance.”