Does Size Matter?
Well, of course, it depends on the context. If you’re talking family inside of a MINI Cooper, then yes, size does matter. If you’re talking about a chicken nugget, then no, not really. But, when it comes to SpokenWord, does it matter? It does. A lot. Why?
Because, according to Digital Information World, you’re dealing with attention spans that have fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds recently.
It makes sense. You’re scrolling through Instagram or YouTube. If a video doesn’t catch your attention in the first two seconds, you’re not going to listen. You’re not going to watch. You might even block/unfollow because some of yall are THAT petty. But I digress. The average YouTube video holds someone’s attention for 2.7 minutes. Two-point-seven.
So, it's hard to keep someone’s attention in this digital age. We’re distracted. We want to check our emails or notifications. We want to update our status. We want to take a picture of our dinner and post it on a social site. And our attention spans will get lower and lower over time.
So, if you’re still here, I’ll ask you this—do you think a poem that goes on and on for minutes and minutes without end—will keep attention? Or, will people drop off and slowly start picking up their phones or chatting to a nearby neighbor? Most likely, it’s the latter.
“There is a strategy with this”
In the beginning, you have to hit them hard. You have to hit them fast. Think of Mike Tyson, not Money Mayweather. Tyson went in to knock you out as quickly as he could. Your first words have to be haymakers. Your emotion has to be a haymaker. Your performance has to be an old Mike Tyson fight.
Of course, it depends on the setting. In Slam, back when I did it, we had 3 minutes and 10 seconds. So, many performance poets have kept that same time frame when writing other poems. A poem that’s 3 minutes long won’t have a problem battling with attention spans. Because, to them, it’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s so entertaining that they don’t even realize it’s only been 3 minutes.
Tyson. Not Mayweather.
But, if you go on stage and skip past three minutes, it's ok. If you skip past four, it still might be alright, depending on how well you’re performing your piece. But, if you dare to venture into the five-minute and above category, you’re going to run into everything. People will check their phones. People will chat. Eyes wander away from you, thinking, “is this poem still going?”
You don’t want to lose the audience. Not saying that every poem has to be three minutes or less because it doesn’t. There’s no rule to this. And, if you’re featuring, then yes, by all means, that’s a great time to drop a 7-minute piece because people are there TO SEE YOU.
Likewise, if you want to spit a 7-minute poem at an open mic, by all means, spit a 7-minute poem. And even if you’re dropping knowledge and gems, seven minutes is still seven minutes. In the digital world, that’s a long damn time. So, if you haven’t lost half the audience by the end of your poem, you’re already a legend.
I have a friend named GFSolider. And, this brutha doesn’t write a poem that’s less than five minutes—yet, he became one of the most popular poets in the world. Literally. Getting flown out to Africa to perform and everywhere else. So, if you know how to control a crowd for an extended amount of time, then you could be the exception. But, for the most part, size does matter.
Attention spans are shriveling like your boyfriend on a cold winter day. So, keep that in mind when you put the pen to pad—especially if you plan on performing. There are ways to break your longer poems down without sacrificing the essence of your piece. If you want to know how, follow @theinkmagazine on Instagram, where we drop off performance hints, tips, and all kinds of news for poets like you. See you there!