“You don’t listen!”
All of us have likely heard these words spat at us in frustration at some point in our lives. And guess what, it’s true! The fact is that no one listens.
In a previous OPEN Forum article, I wrote on how to more effectively hear what others are really trying to say. By recognizing how you listen (or more accurately, don’t), you can then better understand the way others listen. This in turn arms you with the ability to speak in a way that will have you be heard.
Effective innovators and business leaders need to “sell” their ideas to others. But too often we fall into unproductive behaviors that prevent our message from coming across.
What are these barriers and how can you conquer them? Having given hundreds of speeches in 43 countries, I have learned a few tricks on how to be heard more effectively, whether you're speaking to a big audience or just one client or employee.
1. To be heard, first hear. While speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., I became painfully aware that everyone was more interested in being heard than hearing the perspectives of others. How can you be heard in this environment? Listen. Appreciate their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. People can sense when you are not open to what they are saying and will thus be less inclined to hear you. Acknowledge differences in opinion and appreciate others' perspectives.
2. Build an emotional connection. When starting a speech, you want to connect with the audience emotionally. Why should the audience care about what I am going to say? What’s in it for them? What benefit will come from listening? Buy-in is rarely done on an intellectual level. People are more likely to listen if they can relate to you and your message on an emotion level. Does what you offer—your product, service or idea—solve a problem? Can you speak to a pain they have?
3. Know your audience’s style. I’ve found that although American audiences typically like my speaking style, people in other countries are sometimes put off by it. For example, if I use my high-energy style in England, I can be viewed as overly enthusiastic and not taken as seriously. I find that a more professorial approach works there. Equally, when speaking to scientists, I use a different style than when speaking to advertising agencies. In order to be heard, match your style to that of the audience.
4. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone makes decisions in different ways. Even though I may be interested in the novelty/coolness factor, others want to know the scientific evidence and facts. Some are more interested in the practicality of your solution while others are more concerned with the impact on others and are driven by emotions. When speaking to larger groups, you need to address all of these styles. But when talking to someone one-on-one, speak to the style of the individual.
5. Don’t preach. Coach. It is fine to be passionate about your topic, but being dogmatic and closed-minded prevents others from being interested in your point of view. Therefore, instead of dictating solutions, be a coach. Have others “try on your perspective for size.” Let them know that if it doesn’t fit, they don’t have to wear it. This gives them the freedom to listen without obligation. If they come to your conclusion on their own, there will be greater buy-in.
6. Be yourself. Though it is good to tailor your style to that of your audience, do not lose your individuality. Mikki Williams is a successful motivational speaker. Her first major presentation was to a large corporate audience. The other speakers were CEOs while her background was aerobics. Although many tried to convince her to dress for the audience, she chose to wear something that felt right for her; something very non-corporate. She was such a smash that she landed on the front-page of the Wall Street Journal in an article on how to stand out. People are often more interested in your being genuine than your fitting in.
7. Establish credibility. Have you ever noticed that professional speakers get well-respected executives to introduce them? The reason is credibility building. Before people will listen to you, they have to know that you are a credible resource. During my speeches, I subtly weave in stories of my work with recognizable companies in order to reinforce that credibility. Social proof is a great way of establishing yourself as an authority.
Regardless of which tips you apply, it is important to never use these (or other) concepts as manipulative techniques. If an approach is not natural for you, people will see through it and trust you even less. Authenticity is key.
Professional speakers have honed their craft to be heard by the audience. And you and your business can use these same tips in any communication. By identifying these common barriers to communication, you can skillfully work around them to more effectively deliver your message.
Photo credit: Thinkstock