We want to be heard. Otherwise, why speak at all? But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, words come out of a person’s mouth, yet they don’t reach anyone’s ears because no one’s listening.
How does this happen?
There’s a reason some people don’t command an audience. Of course, good listeners are hard to find. And it takes a lot to keep anyone’s attention. But terrific speakers know how to captivate. They understand communication skills are helpful and hone them. Here are five of their secrets.
1: Be succinct
Think of people you consider a bore. Don’t be shy now. It’s just me and you, and I won’t tell. No doubt, you just pictured an individual and felt an inner sigh at the thought of them cornering you.
There’s nothing worse than being stuck with someone boring at a party, or anywhere else.
You hear interesting, funny people laughing and enjoying themselves a few feet away. And there you are, unable to break free from Mr. or Mrs. Whittle-On. Within a minute or two, they’ve lost your attention.
People lose interest in what you say when you waffle. There’s a point to your story, but you take too long to make it. The same is true of written stories. Don’t you get annoyed when you read a five-minute article, only to discover you weren’t entertained or given information? The same is true if you aren’t succinct when you speak.
I know a man who begins stories the wrong way round. They typically go something like this:
“It wasn’t my fault. Red’s my favorite color, and it was a windy day. I told them, don’t get upset with me about that kind of thing! So, as you can imagine, I was furious.”
You can — eventually — get the seed of a tale out of someone like this, but it takes plenty of concentration and well-crafted questions. It’s easier not to listen.
2: Use the listener’s name
You can’t do this when public speaking, but face-to-face chats benefit from it. Use someone’s name. Many people will tell you to do it to make a listener feel special.
It’s just polite. It’s also useful to say someone’s name occasionally as you converse because it pulls them back into the story if they’ve drifted. Have you heard of the cocktail effect? Studies show people hear when their name is mentioned, even in a busy room, because their brain recognizes it instantly.
3: Be animated
You need not dance around like a clown to gain attention, but research suggests it helps to be animated. After studying 18-minute TED Talks, body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards says “top-rated TED Talks had an average of 7.3 million views and used an average of 465 hand gestures.” Now that’s a lot of gesticulation.
Use body language to describe and emphasize points when you speak, and people will be hooked by what you say. If you want to talk about two opposites, for instance, hold one hand out, palm up, and then the other. We’re attracted to movement and more likely to watch and listen when a speaker is animated.
We decide whether we like someone and want to listen to them quickly when we meet. It’s clear anyone pulling a sour face isn’t going to be fun, and we can see their expression from a distance. A neutral expression isn’t captivating either. We’re more likely to warm to anyone who smiles. Especially if they also gain eye contact and face us, giving us their full attention.
5: Ask questions
Did you ever converse with someone who didn’t seem to care you existed? When a speaker shows little interest in their audience, the mood plummets. Semi-listening folk shuffle, glance at their watches, and point their feet, ready to flee, in the opposite direction.
One way to engage listeners is to encourage them to join in. Ask questions. Make them feel part of the conversation. After all, they probably are (unless you give a speech, and even then, you can include your audience.)
The suggestions made aren’t rocket science. But they are tried-and-true methods to help you speak so people stop and listen. Use them, and you won’t feel inconsequential. What’s more, you’ll impart information in ways people enjoy.
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