Is Anyone Listening

Geoffrey X Lane

Is conversation and communicating becoming a lost art?

Ever get the feeling that what you say goes in one ear of a listener and out the other? That’s becoming an increasingly common experience in modern workplaces as people tune out spoken messages amid a clutter of written information, texts, emails and websites.

Since the beginning of time, people talked and listened to exchange information, but that’s all changed now. The pervasive use of the Internet, e-mails and text messaging have turned communicating into more of a solo, silent endeavor.

Do you suffer from information overload?

People are getting ruthless about filtering out messages that don’t grab their attention. A survey of 237 senior executives and managers by NFI Research found that 80 per cent of those U.S. executives believe they receive too much regular communication every day from both internal and external sources. To cope, they are increasingly looking for ways to filter out non-essential e-mails, voicemail, memos and messages.

It’s not just a trend in the executive suite. Information overload is a fact of working life at all levels of an organization. It would be difficult to go back to the slower, but perhaps more effective, old ways of communicating, so we all have to adapt. To hold people’s attention and get them to grasp what you have to say requires new strategies.

Here are 10 key points to help you get your message heard:

  1. Make it relevant – Tune into “WIFM”  Whether it is an audience of one or many, think about tuning into radio “WIFM” – What’s In it For Me? Get that across first and you’ve got a willing audience.
  2. Tease Tell them there’s an important reason to hear you out. It works in infomercials and it will work for you. Ask something such as, “Would you like to find a simple way to cut half an hour off your work day?” You’ll have people nodding their heads. Then promise, “Well, I’m going to do just that”, and deliver on your promise.
  3. Enthusiasm is contagious and gets attention If you sound excited by what you have to say, your listeners will be too.  An-un-emotional, l monotone speaking style is difficult to follow and will make people turn their attention elsewhere.
  4. Make your point early In the age of instant messaging, it’s no longer easy to get people to stick around long enough for you to get to the point. A better approach is to start with the equivalent of a headline that crystallizes the point you want to make; then go into the reasoning and proof.
  5. KISS IT – Keep It Short and Simple You have to deliver facts quickly and concisely because attention spans are short, typically a minute and a half. Studies of television viewers have found that people are likely to reach for the remote to change the channel if they don’t find something compelling in that short period of time. One useful approach is to write down the essence of what you want to say as “bullet points” – concise, snappy statements that are easy to remember.
  6. The number three works Don’t try to get across more than three key messages in any one verbal presentation. Research shows people can’t absorb more than that without losing focus.
  7. Keep it conversational To ensure clarity, use only words that are commonly used in conversation. Also keep in mind that an increasing number of people in your audience have English as their second language. If there’s a word you have to look up in a dictionary, you probably shouldn’t use it in your verbal communication.
  8. If you confuse, they will snooze The brain demands logic, order and a sense of direction. Having to backtrack is distracting, so the most compelling progression of dialogue is chronological and from general to specific.
  9. Keep your audience involved Using rhetorical questions, such as “Why would this matter to you?” encourages people to respond and think about options. They’ll stick around because they know you are going to give them an answer. If it’s clear you’re losing attention, a useful communication technique is to very calmly ask a question such as “I may have gone off on a direction that lost some of you. What did you find confusing because I want to make sure you understand?” This will re-engage the audience and help re-focus you on your message.
  10. Be Real – Show Up! At one time it was acceptable to get up at a meeting, stand behind the podium and orate verbatim from a text. It didn’t seem to matter whether people learned anything and whether you were appealing or not. It’s no longer enough to be the boss or the expert. Now we are much more discerning, educated and demand authenticity and sincerity. No matter who you are, you have to show up as a person with a message that is compelling or people will tune out.

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