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How to get people to listen to your ideas

The bad news: Your audience remembers only about one-fifth of what they hear. The good news: There are ways to change that.

How to get people to listen to your ideas
[Photo: Miguel Henriques /Unsplash]

Listening takes up much of our time–we spend 55% of our day listening. And we take in 20,000 to 30,000 words each day.

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But here’s the rub: Our audience remembers only about one-fifth of what they hear. Most of what we say goes in one ear and out the other. People may be looking at us, they may be hearing us, but they are not truly listening to us. What we say is soon forgotten.

The secret to having others absorb and retain what you say is to truly engage them in the way you present your ideas. Here are five ways to do just that.

1. Be audience-centered

People will listen to you if you show you’ve listened to them–so build your audience into your remarks. One way speakers often do this is to begin their thoughts with, “As Amy said,” or “To recap, Marcus . . .” This brings the audience in, but unfortunately it makes you sound like you’re riding on the coattails of someone else.

A better way to show you’ve listened to your audience is to build beyond what they’ve said. In introducing an idea, you might say, “I liked what Brianna said about moving ahead with this project, and I have a plan for doing just that.” Or you could say, “I spoke to all of you individually as part of my research, and I have incorporated your suggestions into this masterplan.” You’re giving credit to your audience, but you’re also leading the charge.

2. Have a clear message

Your audience is more likely to listen if you have one key message they can relate to. To make sure they really hear it, frame it with words like, “My point is . . .” or “My main message is . . . ” or “I believe that . . .” You can also simply say, “Here’s the thing . . .”

You’ll want to state your message near the beginning of your remarks, and come back to it as you conclude. In fact, you can wrap up with a message statement that suggests your listeners have “bought in.” For example, “So I’m confident that we have an excellent strategy for building our client base.”

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3. Count out your points

Still another way to help your audience listen is to count out your points. When we hear someone say, “The first . . .” or “The second . . .” we take notice, because those words announce discreet ideas.

So count out your material. Organize the content that follows your message into points–between two and four of them. These will alert your listeners to the arguments you’re making, and ensure you have structure to your thinking.

The simplest structural tags are: “First,” . . . “Second,” . . . “Third.” You can also say, “My first reason . . .” “My second reason . . .” and, “My third reason.” Or “The first way,” “the second way . . .” and, “The third way.” Or “The first step . . .” and so forth, counting out as many points as you have. Whether you have two, three, or four points doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a clear structure that encourages listening.

4. Slow down

You can help your audience listen, too, by slowing your pace. When we speak extemporaneously, we often accelerate our pace–speaking faster than our audience can think, and even faster than we can collect our thoughts.

One way to slow your pace is to speak in a more leisurely fashion, giving weight to each thought and emphasizing key words. For example, if you’re talking about a new HR maternity policy, give emphasis to thematic words like maternity benefits. Also emphasize words that carry your conviction (I believe; I know; I am confident).

The second way to slow down is to pause between your ideas. When a thought is being delivered the audience hears the words but it’s during the pause after the sentence that they absorb what’s been said. By pausing after each thought (and before the next one) you will give your audience time to truly listen to each idea.

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5. Use body language

The way we use our eyes, face, gestures, and bodies can shape the degree to which people listen to us.

For starters, look people directly in the eye when you are talking to them. Even if you’re speaking to a team of 10, make eye contact with each person (one at a time). When you look at one person, the whole room will feel your gaze and connect with what you are saying.

Show in your face that what you are saying matters. An animated face is not only a physical cue that what you’re saying is important, but it makes your voice more animated, and that will help people stay tuned.

Hold your head high, and stand (or sit) tall–showing that you have confidence in what you are saying. This presence draws your audience in and encourages them to listen.

Finally, use open gestures to engage your audience, and underscore key points. Even when you are not gesturing, keep your arms open (not folded) to show that you are comfortable (not closed or defensive) about what you’re saying.

All this body language tells your audience that you are turned on by what you are saying, and they will be prompted to be similarly engaged.

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Listening is hard work. There are so many distractions in our lives. But if you adopt these five techniques, you will help your listeners not only hear you with their ears, but truly listen with their minds and hearts.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors

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