The 10 Minute Rule

So I ask this question in every college course I teach: “Given a class of medium interest, not too boring and not too exciting, when do you start glancing at the clock, wondering when the class will be over?” There is always some nervous shuffling, a few smiles, then a lot of silence. Eventually someone blurts out:

“Ten minutes, Dr. Medina.”

“Why 10 minutes?” I inquire.

“That’s when I start to lose attention. That’s when I begin to wonder when this torment will be over.” The comments are always said in frustration. A college lecture is still about 50 minutes long.

Peer-reviewed studies confirm my informal inquiry: Before the first quarter-hour is over in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out. If keeping someone’s interest in a lecture were a business, it would have an 80 percent failure rate. What happens at the 10-minute mark to cause such trouble? Nobody knows. The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene. This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.

"10 Minute Rule" slide with audio

To learn more about how Brain Rules relates to presentations, check out Garr Reynolds's Brain Rules for Presenters slideshow. Garr is the author of Presentation Zen.


Rufus said...

So, then use the first 10 minutes to say: "Everything that will be on the test will be taught in the LAST 10 minutes of this class. If you leave or sleep now, you will automatically fail."

We wonder why college students come out more useless than when they went in.

Eva said...

An alternative might be frequent breaks. For a presentation, that might translate to a different speech pattern or tactic or something. Like showing a video or telling a story - that shift will prob. use different areas of the brain and be enough to give a break.

rocket said...

On attention: Not many people know Buddhism is a "mind science" (97.5%) more than a religion (2.5%). The first and essential task in learning meditation is to focus attention at will for relatively prolonged periods of time on a single object. The thing that limits this for most of us is emotionally charged things and also simply an incessant stream if mostly rubish coming from our minds interrupting focussed attention, This is happening pretty much from waking to sleeping every day all day and is robbing most of us of our best functioning.

When I learned techniques developed in Tibet over many centuries to quiet, even silence, the non stop incessant stream of mostly useless and largely negative thoughts I was astonished at what I found in place of all that BS. For the first time in my entire life I experienced a mental clarity, freedom from any negative emotion or negative reaction to anything, even things which would illicit a "justified" negative response produced no negativity at all. My behavior followed, naturally. MY mind was
"healed" you might say in exactly the way ones body heals itself when one removes factors that confound the bodies capacity to heal itself.

The "mind sciences", psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience of industrialized societies are in the infancy and centuries of catching up to do. We are frighteningly inept, to the point we are nearing self destruction of our species, at mastering the emotions. The Tibetans have been doing it seriously for 25 centuries. Subjective science, a science that is for development of each individuals capacity for mastering the activities of ones mind then secondarily ones behavior. We're scary stupid on that one.