Has it ever happened to you? You gave a super interesting presentation which you were sure would blow the audience away and whilst giving the talk, you realize that the audience is super bored, disinterested and not even listening to what you had to say in the first place?
Don’t take this personally or being reflective of your talking and communication skills – truth is most if not all people are not good at listening. The average attention span of a human being has always even been transient at best, and now with the advent of smartphones and technology – we now have attention spans shorter than that of a goldfish!.
We all may be physically present at one plane, and appear to be attentive but mostly, our minds wander all over the place… And this situation is not just limited to you giving a talk to an audience, but sometimes even in interpersonal communication where you may be baring your heart and should, but the other person is inadvertently not paying attention…
Doesn’t the Onus of Listening Lie With the Listener?
In a fair world, sure, but then the world isn’t all that a fair place, is it? What we need to do, is to stop resenting the fact that we may be saying or talking about the most interesting thing in the world but the other person may have stopped listening to it a while back. Instead, what we do need to do is to read the subtle signs of a person not listening so as to bring our audience’s attention back to us.
The effectiveness of a speaker ultimately lies with how much of it the audience has heard, listened and understood from and not just being a good talker. As a speaker, you have to ensure that the audience’s attention is on you, much like a spotlight.
What Are the Signs of Ineffective Listening?
As a speaker, you need to be aware of when the audience’s attention span starts to wander – and need to change the way you are talking so that everyone sits up and pays attention. It may not be fair to you as a speaker, but then the idea is that you need to make people listen using whatever means necessary – simply because there’s not much difference between your audience and a bunch of goldfish when it comes to paying attention! So read these signs of ineffective listening, and know when an intervention is needed.
Whether your audience is a whole auditorium full of people, or just someone you are having a one on one contact with – these are the common, non-verbal sign that your audience is no longer really listening to you.
- Lack of eye contact: Most people actually listening to you talk, are likely to maintain a certain level of eye contact with you. If your audience is shying away from eye contact, they are likely distracted and not listening to you.
- Too little or too much of nodding: When people are truly listening to you and understanding what you have to say – they tend to nod every now and then. If your audience is sitting with no nodding, or god forbid too much nodding – they are not listening!
- No questions or response from the audience: At the end of a talk, as a speaker, you are likely to ask your audience if they have any doubts or need any further clarifications from you. Signs of good listening usually include at least a couple of questions of clarifications – but if you receive no response. It is possible that no one was actually listening to you.
- No facial expressions: A wooden audience means that they weren’t listening to your jokes, your let’s get serious lines or even those argument-inspiring diktats.
- Your audience interrupts you too much: Finally, if your audience keeps interrupting you – for clarifications, for arguing a point, for any random point – it is likely that they are on a different train of thought entirely.
How To Bring the Listening Spotlight Back on You
While it’s disheartening for the person who is talking to see that his audience, be it one or many, is not really listening to him – the best way to tackle this is to not take it personally, and simply get the spotlight of your audience’s attention back to you. Here are a few tips…
Make an Intentional Pause
If your audience is distracted, your voice and talk may have just turned into background noise for them. To snap them out of their inertia, pause for a moment. The idea is not to embarrass anyone and bring the spotlight on them – but when you stop speaking for a few moments, your audience is likely to snap out of their wandering thoughts and look at you in momentary surprise. This is the time to strike into new territory or even summarize your earlier topic into a couple of short, succinct sentences.
Ask a Question, Skillfully
One way to get the audience’s interest is to ask a question – albeit skillfully. Do not embarrass your audience – instead, summarize your points and then ask for opinions from people. Don’t get bothered if people are using their cell phones for that’s only normal. Instead, summarize and then ask questions. Make the audience part of your speech and you will see the cell phones slowly slip into pockets. When you ask a question, human competitiveness comes to the fore – and even the backseat laggards want to participate all of a sudden.
Make a Sudden Verbal or Non Verbal Change
If you have been elaborating on the same point for a while, some of your audience may have become distracted. To bring their attention back – make a quick verbal change. Laugh suddenly or raise the pitch of your voice a few notches. This sudden change will bring drifting minds back from hearing to listening. Crack a sudden joke, do an impromptu dance, clap your hands – a sudden sound or visual stimuli is likely to bring everyone’s attention back to you. Change always grabs attention.
Turn It Around
Mostly, the audience is used to the speaker having them turn off their cell phones and basically behave likes student in pre-K, even if they all might be CEOs of multimillion dollar companies. So, as a speaker, turn things around. A few really successful speakers have been known to use reverse psychology – they tell the audience not to put away the cell phones, remarking that this was not a church or a hospital. This establishes rapport between the audience and the speaker and this makes listening to a fun process.
Insert a Couple of Breaks
If your talk is going to be a tad long, make sure you insert a couple of breaks. Encourage your audience to go have a bathroom or water break, stretch their legs a tad or even catch up on Facebook or Twitter. Breaks, well, break the monotony of listening and freshen up your audience for all that you have to say further…
Remember that holding the attention of an audience; be it one or many is usually an uphill talk. Don’t get discouraged with wandering thoughts and learn the tips and tricks of bringing the focus back on to you. Laugh a lot, and make the audience smile too – and effective listening will soon follow.
|||^||Telegraph: Humans Have A Shorter Attention Span Than That Of A Goldfish|
|||^||Moseley Williams: 4 Non-Verbal Signs of Ineffective Listening|
|||^||Fast Company: How To Master The Art of the Pause|
|||^||The Accidental Communicator: Ways to Keep a Distracted Audience’s Attention|
|||^||Speaking About Presenting: Audience Attention Presentation|
|||^||Toastmasters: Dealing with a Distracted Audience|