You've Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

You've Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

by Paul Hellman
You've Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

You've Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

by Paul Hellman


(Not eligible for purchase using B&N Audiobooks Subscription credits)
    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, June 1
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores


The average attention span has dropped to 8 seconds. To break through to people, you need to focus on your audience, be slightly different, and deliver with finesse.

Every day at work, people do three things: talk, listen, and pretend to listen. Through fast, fun, actionable tips, You've Got 8 Seconds explains what works and what doesn't, what's forgettable and what sticks. With stories, scripts, and examples of good and bad messages, communications expert Paul Hellman reveals three main strategies:

  • Focus: Design a strong message - then say it in seconds
  • Variety: Make routine information come alive
  • Presence: Convey confidence and command attention

You'll discover practical techniques, including the fast-focus method that Hellman uses with leadership teams; how to stand out in the first seconds of a presentation; and 10 actions that spell executive presence.

Whether pitching a project, giving a speech, selling a product, or just writing an email, You've Got 8 Seconds will make sure you get heard, get remembered, and get results.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814438305
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 04/13/2017
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 540,254
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Paul Hellman consults and speaks internationally on how to excel in high-stakes communications. His columns and advice have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,, The Boston Globe's online Job Doc column, and on public radio's Marketplace and CNN's Business Unusual.

Read an Excerpt

You've Got 00:00:08 Seconds

Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

By Paul Hellman


Copyright © 2017 Paul Hellman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3830-5


Say Less

"In Maine we have a saying that there's no point in speaking unless you can improve on silence."

— EDMUND MUSKIE, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State

Don't Over-Salt

Detail is like salt. You can always add more. (If others want more, they'll ask questions.) But once in, you can't take it out.

Consider what your audience wants to know. But also, and every bit as important, what they don't want to know — because they've got no time, no interest, they're preoccupied with 10,000 other things, and they'd gladly pay you a boatload of money if you simply didn't tell them.

"Describe yourself," one CEO asks job applicants, "in three words or less."

What would you say? Probably not "wordy and repetitive."

But how focused are you?

"You seem to have 29 ideas at once," an exec told one of his managers.

"And I feel like I'm hearing them all, right this minute."

Ever gotten feedback like that?

I work with several companies where executives, after taking a communication assessment, will gladly tell you their preferred styles. Each style has its own color.

Let's say you walk into an office and see the color red. That means, in essence, "Get to the point. Then get out."

But most execs aren't that direct.

Your boss probably hasn't asked you to say it in three words or less, or given you feedback about your 29 ideas, or flashed the color red in your face.

Maybe she hasn't said a thing about valuing conciseness.

Assume it.

Tell Them What You're NOT Going to Tell Them

There's mystery in what people don't say. Let's use that to our advantage.

When you ask someone, "How are you?" you get the mysterious answer, "Fine."

No one says, "Well, my spouse just ran off with the plumber, and ever since she left, I've been despondent. Also, the upstairs sink hasn't been draining properly."

But in other conversations, the border between what to disclose vs. what not to, gets murky.

I recently patrolled that border with a group of research scientists, while working on their upcoming presentations. Every presentation lives, or dies, at that border.

We all know what it's like to be in the audience. I often advise clients to imagine an unpleasant dental procedure.

Suppose your presentation is 10 minutes. That's a 10-minute procedure. And if you're one of eight people presenting that day, you'd need to multiply those 10 minutes by eight dentists.

That's a long time.

The Gettysburg Address, as you've probably heard at least 272 times, was only 272 words — two minutes. You wouldn't need a dentist for that, just a hygienist, cleaning and flossing at breakneck speed.

Wouldn't you rather your audience think That meeting was way too short, I wish there'd been another 37 PowerPoint slides! than the opposite?

Then consider, there are different ways to "tell."

You already know the value of a preview (tell them what you're going to tell them) and a review (tell them what you've told them), although it's shocking how seldom we use these tools.

Here's something different: Tell them what you're NOT going to tell them.

A research scientist could say, "I'm not going to tell you about each of the 278 validation studies we ran. Let's just say it was complicated." Message: We didn't just pull this data out of a hat.

When it comes to either information or dentistry, less is more.

To Say Less, Measure

Recently, I got a sports watch as a gift. The watch measures all sorts of things when you're out running, or walking, or getting carried away to the nearest hospital.

Sometimes, before it displays any stats, the watch adds a comment. But not always.

Suppose on Sunday, I walk out to the driveway and pick up the newspaper. No comment. Not even, "We can't believe you're up so early! Way to go!"

And even when it adds a comment, like after a four or five-mile workout, the watch seems unimpressed. "Nice effort," is all it says. I suspect it's being sarcastic.

But what I've noticed, since I've been measuring things, is that my workouts keep getting longer and longer. The act of measuring is not neutral; it changes behavior.

If you want to be more concise, let's measure that. Here's a possible workout:

* In one-to-one conversations, talk less than the other person. Instead of rambling on and on, ask at least one thought-provoking question per conversation.

* In meetings, speak in 30–60 second bites. Provide the headline news first, with details later, and only give details if asked. You'll be surprised by how much you can say in 30 seconds.

* When presenting, slim down to 10 PowerPoint slides or less. And occasionally, lose the entire deck (PowerPoint tips, page 102).

You get the point. I'd like to say more but, according to my watch, I've got to run.

Say More

You may have the opposite problem. "I've gotten feedback," a manager told me, "to speak up more at meetings."

"What stops you?" I asked him.

"Others in the room — they've got more experience and expertise. So I think, Why would they listen to me?"

Ever feel like that? Who hasn't.

It's an editing problem, really. You're at a meeting, you have a thought, but before you can say "hello," you edit yourself: "Is that really worth sharing?"

Over the years, as an author, I've worked with editors at several publishing houses. Editors range from very encouraging to very critical.

One day, I heard about an editor who was beloved for his glowing comments. "Brilliant!" he'd tell an author. "I just love your whole book."

Meanwhile, my editor at the time had just sent back my manuscript. Almost every page was marked up in red: "You lost me here." "Is this section really necessary?" "This whole chapter needs a lot of work."

So editors run the gamut. Let's talk about your editor, the one inside your head who determines what you say and what you don't, the "border guard on the line between thought and speech."

If your inner editor is too fierce, it's inhibiting. Try this:

Practice speaking nonstop for 60 seconds on a random topic. Do this alone, perhaps in your car going to work.

You don't need to stay on the topic, just begin there. Any topic will do, for example, your To Do list, a current career dilemma, or your beliefs about spaghetti sauce.

Just voice your thoughts, as they occur — forget about being coherent — even if your only thought is that you have no beliefs, really, about spaghetti sauce.

The goal: loosen your editor, spark your spontaneity. You'll never change your personality — why would you want to? — just your range.

More or Less? Give Appropriate Detail

What's appropriate detail? This is the key question to ask yourself, again and again.

Answer: depends on your audience.

Consider the first line of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway was famous for simple words and short sentences: "He was an old man who fished alone ... and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."

If you're a fisherman speaking to a fishing audience, they'll want more detail; non-fishers, less. Similarly, technical audiences often appreciate more detail; nontechnical audiences, less.

Here's what The Old Man and the Sea looks like, by the way, as a PowerPoint slide:

Hemingway chose to write a novel, not a Power Point slide.

Being concise doesn't mean speaking 24/7 in bullet points. Otherwise, you'll sound like a prisoner of war, or a terse teenager who thinks he's a prisoner of war.

So be flexible. And observe your audience. They'll give you clues about appropriate detail. When you're talking to someone and she starts tapping a pencil, or a foot, or the side of your head, that's a clue.

How Much to Self-Disclose? Stress-Test a Risky Disclosure

As we circled the Toronto airport, the pilot made a disturbing announcement.

He had to say something; we'd just attempted to land, then shot back up. So the passengers definitely needed an explanation, even if the pilot had to make one up.

"The problem," he said, in a somber voice, "is fog." That sounded like a perfectly good reason to me; I wish he'd left it there.

But then he added, "Several other planes are about to land. Let's see how that goes."

Suddenly, the passengers around me looked agitated. And I didn't feel too good either. Did our pilot know what he was doing?

He didn't sound confident. And "let's see how that goes" didn't sound like a flight plan. A good plan — correct me if I'm wrong here — probably shouldn't hinge on whether any other planes crash and burn.

(Apparently they didn't. Twenty minutes later, we landed.)

Let's talk about self-disclosure. Everyone at work has doubts, struggles, and insecurities — even pilots. How much should you reveal?

It depends, doesn't it? Who are you talking with? You might not reveal much until you trust the person. But, conversely, one way to build trust is through disclosure.

Suppose your manager, for example, tells you that she's working on being a better listener, and she'd like your feedback. Suddenly, she seems more human, more approachable. And you're likely to reciprocate.

Or a colleague confides over lunch about his struggles at home with work-life balance; you're likely to connect on a deeper level.

Here's another plus about self-disclosure: it's an effective way to make a point. Suppose our pilot, years later, teaches a course for new pilots: "How to Land an Airplane without Scaring All Your Passengers."

He might talk about that night in Toronto, and about his unease. "Even experienced pilots have doubts," he'd say. "I certainly did that night." That's good to hear if you're a new pilot.

But not if you're a passenger, in midair.

Stress-test a risky disclosure with two questions about your audience:

1. Upside: What does your audience gain by knowing?

2. Downside: How likely are they to want to jump off the plane?


The Fast-Focus Method™

"I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."

— ELMORE LEONARD, novelist and screenwriter

Be the Audience: Answer Their Three Questions

Most messages, spoken or written, are designed from the speaker's point of view. That's upside down. Imagine you're the audience. What would capture your attention?

Sometimes, I ask audiences what they're really thinking about. They say:

I'm thinking about my To Do list, and all the things I'm not doing, because I'm sitting here, half-listening to you.

Gluten. Why is everyone so obsessed with gluten-free food? Is gluten poisonous? I just ate a muffin. Did it have gluten? Am I going to die?

In one word: me.

The point is, your audience is probably not thinking about you. But to capture attention, you need to think about them. Be the audience.

Your audience, whether you're talking to 100 people at work or 1 person at home, has three questions, always the same.

Although these questions seldom get asked directly, they're the hurdles you have to jump, in sequence, to capture and hold attention:

1. Why should I listen (or read this)?

2. What exactly are you saying?

3. What should I do with this info?

To fast-focus your message, answer the three questions.

First Audience Question: Why Should I Listen?

Fast-focus with a purpose statement.

A purpose statement is like a present. You immediately hook people with something they value. It's a great way to start a meeting, phone call, or email.

Oprah Winfrey, years ago, gave each of her audience members a mysterious box. One of the boxes, she said, contained the keys to a new car.

Surprise — all the boxes did. Oprah gave away 276 new Pontiacs that day. Value: $7 million.

Want to capture your audience? You'll need a great present; what will it be?

"Not sure," you say, "because I don't have 276 Pontiacs. But wait, I do have 276 PowerPoint slides. Also some handouts."


If you watch Oprah that day, she looks as excited as the audience. And if you walk in with a great present, you'll be excited too.

But how do you know if you've got something good? Well, like any present, it depends on the recipient — in this case, the audience. Oprah's audience had been specially selected; they really needed cars.

What does your audience need?

Once you've figured that out, tell your audience.

A strong purpose statement says what you're going to talk about and, more importantly, why. Why is the value, from the audience's perspective. Why answers the audience's question: "Why should we listen?"

Bad example: Suppose you're representing your company at a job fair. "My purpose," you say, "is to tell you why my company is the best place to work."

Well, that beats saying why it's the worst, although the latter might be more interesting. "Some of our products don't really work. A few smell bad. We think they may be carcinogenic."

It may be your purpose, as the speaker, to promote your company, but the audience has probably heard 20 other speakers say the same thing.

To figure out your purpose statement, take a few minutes to stop being you. Be the audience. What are their concerns?

Well, at the job fair, they're probably wondering what it's like to work at your company and if they'd like it.

Ok, start there. "Our purpose is to help you figure out if this company would be a good fit for you."

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. But if you help the audience decide, you've given them a gift.

Your audience, it turns out, has absolutely no reason to listen to you. Give them one.

What If There's No Real Benefit? Tell Your Audience the Cost of Not Listening

Your proposition sounds like this: "Audience, if you listen, you'll either get something good, or else you'll avoid something bad."

Let's suppose you're talking about something uninteresting, for example, new regulations, to an audience that could care less. Your job: make them care more.

Maybe there's no real benefit to knowing about the regulations, but there's certainly a cost to not knowing. What is it?

Try opening your presentation with a picture: prison. "Our purpose today," you could say, "is to avoid going there."

Don't Confuse Your Purpose Statement with an Agenda

My client was unhappy. He'd just watched me present a two-day leadership workshop at his company, and he had only one comment.

"You should have asked the group a simple question, over and over," he said.

"What question?" I asked. I really had no idea. This happened long ago. Back then, I didn't think of myself as clueless, but not thinking you're clueless is probably one of the main signs that you might be.

Client: "What do these leadership skills have to do with selling more beer?"

His question sounded like, "So what's this got to do with the price of eggs?" I've never thought much about the price of eggs, even though I've heard the expression a million times. Apparently, some people are obsessed.

My client didn't care about eggs, and neither did the workshop group. They were sales managers, they sold beer, and what they thought about, all day long, was beer.

My mistake: forgetting the beer.

What's your audience thinking about? Let's assume they're preoccupied with 10,000 things. That's 10,000 reasons not to listen to you.

Unless you give them one. So give them one, with a purpose statement.

A purpose statement is not an agenda. Almost every executive I work with has an agenda — that's good — but a purpose statement is more important.

Agenda: "Today we'll talk about the seven practices of exceptional leaders, three big leadership mistakes, plus what the best leaders eat for breakfast and, if it's eggs, what's the price."

Your agenda is the what. It says, "Here's what I'm going to talk about." But it doesn't give the why. "Why should we listen?" your audience wonders. "We've got our own concerns."

Before you tell them the what, tell them the why. That's the purpose of a purpose. (True, I'm saying purpose a lot. On purpose.)

Your purpose needs to speak to their concerns.

Example: "Our purpose is to help you sell more beer. How? By inspiring your employees to sell more beer. By leadership."

Now give the agenda. And keep talking about the beer.

Second Audience Question: What Exactly Are You Saying?

Fast-focus with your main message.

"None of you will remember a single word I say today," the governor said. That's how he began his commencement address at my son's college graduation.

It was a memorable line. On the other hand, it raised a disturbing question: why listen?

Of course, technically, the governor was correct. If you're about to graduate college, and you've taken 30–40 courses, you already know an impressive amount about forgetting.

Let's edit the governor's opening. He could have said: "You won't remember anything I'm about to tell you. Except for ONE THING, and we'll get to that one thing in a minute."


Excerpted from You've Got 00:00:08 Seconds by Paul Hellman. Copyright © 2017 Paul Hellman. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Should You Read This Book? What If You Don't Have Time? xvii

Part I Capture Attention with Focus 1

1 Say Less 3

2 The Fast-Focus Method™ 11

3 Three More Ways to Focus 29

4 Watch Your Words-and Your Emails 33

Part II Capture Attention with Variety 45

5 Be Slightly Different 47

6 The Easiest Way to Explain Anything 55

7 Stories: The 2.5 Step Method™ 59

8 Vary from Announce to Discuss 69

9 Questions: How to Ask the Best-and Answer the Worst 75

10 Presentation Tricks 93

Part III Capture Attention with Presence 111

11 Act As If 113

12 Ten Actions to Increase Your Presence: Assess Yourself 117

13 Image: Communicate that You Look and Sound the Part 121

14 Drive: Communicate that You Get Results 131

15 Temperament: Communicate that You've Got the Right Disposition 141

Conclusion: The Next Step 157

Notes 161

Index 165

About Paul Hellman 170

Customer Reviews