Pause

I mentor a woman who has great instincts, judgment and ideas. She’s recently been given some feedback that she needs to speak up more in meetings — to assert herself more.

The funny thing is, I’ve been in lots of those meetings and have always seen her speak up. What I notice is that other people don’t listen.

At a presentation she was giving recently, she asked the audience to speak to each other for a few minutes. When she was ready to bring the group back together, she started talking, continuing with her presentation. But the audience didn’t hear her and kept their own conversations going. And going … and then a man in the audience noticed she was trying to restart her presentation and said, “Hey … “ It was then that everyone looked up at her.

You might think this is an article about sexism or sexist tendencies in the workplace. It’s not. It’s actually about something much smaller and fixable — sometimes, to get people to listen, you have to actually clue them in that you’re about to say something.

Imagine there’s a buzz of people talking, and someone starts talking at about the same volume and frequency of the buzz. Do you hear the new voice that just started talking? Probably not. It’s just more noise.

But if that person signals you — says “Hey … “, or claps her hands, or coughs a bit louder than the buzz, then you will stop.

The audience listening to my mentee’s presentation didn’t necessarily take notice just because it was a man who talked. It was because he actually got everyone’s attention, causing them to pause for a second.

As the speaker, if your voice isn’t naturally loud and blustery — my mentee’s isn’t, by the way — then you need to get the audience to pause for a second with some kind of signal besides just starting to make your point. You need to clue them into the fact that you’re about to say something. You have to signal that you want to be heard.

Being a powerful communicator isn’t just about what you have to say. It’s about making sure what you’re saying actually gets heard. Just because you’re making a great point doesn’t mean anyone’s actually hearing it.

Make sure you get your audience ready to actually listen to you.