7 Ways to Get People to Listen When You Talk

Whether you are leading a business meeting, attempting to persuade an opposing view point, or questioning the actions of your city council, grabbing the attention (and keeping it) of those in your audience is essential to accomplishing your goal. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better Today)

In this day and age of Internet communication, many of us do not feel comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. The tips in this article will help persuade an audience to sit up, pay attention, and hear what you have to say.

1. Consider Your Audience

Before you speak to any group of people, it is important to consider who your audience is going to be. If it for a formal event listed on a public ticketing site, like Eventbrite, check the attendee list to get a feel for who is attending. Scheduling apps and even Facebook event pages have similar RSVP features that can help you get a guest list ahead of time to research and analyze. Once you have an idea of the types of people you are going to be speaking to, think about what it is they want to hear. Spend time trying to find the best possible way to give them what they want while saying what you need to.

What happens if you can't preview who will be there ahead of time? A quick survey at the beginning of the talk can be helpful. A simple show of hands for finding out who has used a particular smartphone app, for example, can be a game changer in making the talk pertinent for a majority of the audience. For small talks (like a one-on-one conversation), prefacing the discussing with a few questions can go a long way.

2. Use Your Big Kid Voice

Parents are constantly telling their children to use their "big girl" or "big boy" voice. That simply means speaking without baby talk or a lot of whine. The same can be said for the adult who is trying to command a room. Slow down, take breaths as you speak, control your pitch and pace while enunciating clearly. If you find your voice cracking from nervousness or dryness, stop to drink some water (which you should keep on hand at all times!)

3. Be Confident

When you are looking to get the attention of others, it is important to show your confidence in what you have to say. A timid, shy person who is stumbling over her words will not garner the attention she needs. Stand tall, hold your head high, speak clearly and with a strong voice. Remember that taking deeper breaths oxygenates your blood and relaxes you, thus helping you think more clearly.

4. Stand (or Sit) Tall and With Purpose

Whether you are standing or sitting, there is an optimal position that you should take to attract the attention of your audience. When standing, keep a tall back, your head held high and your hands clasped near your belly button. Use small gestures with your hands to add emphasis to your words — watch how regulars in the media use their hands. This also can make you appear taller, which is proven to help your authority with an audience. Many experts have claimed that raising their stature by even a few inches has helped them succeed.

When standing, your legs should be slightly apart. This shows confidence. When sitting, however, leaving your forearms on the table in front of you shows a confident, approachable stance that will sustain the attention of your listeners. (This is likely based on the theory that leaning into the table shows dominance of the table, which can help convey to the room that you own all the room — and therefore, the conversation, as well.)

It is also helpful to identify all of your fears ahead of time and think them through to keep them at bay. It's natural to be nervous or even frightened, but using strategic tips such as exaggeration of your symptoms and imagining the best outcome can be effective if done every time you speak.

5. Remain Sure of Yourself — Even If You Lose Your Place

If you are speaking to an audience and lose your place, fumble, or can't seem to get back on track, it may be the appropriate time for a well-planned joke. Those that can laugh at themselves can recapture an audience quickly and get back on track in no time.

No matter what, avoid apologizing when things get rough. Remain sure of yourself and the message you are sending, or the audience will quickly lose interest in you or perceive you as no longer being an authority on your subject.

If someone in a group argues that what you are saying is wrong, invite them to table the discussion to a more appropriate time, rather than saying "I'm sorry you feel that way."

If you are having a one-on-one conversation, choose your words to show you are empathetic but not dissuadable. Go with phrases such as "I hear your words — here are the reasons why I am saying what I am."

Keep track of your goal with any talk, and attempt to get back on topic during moments of conflict. Simply letting the audience know that you understand their frustrations, but that you need to get back to the topic at hand is a must-have skill for anyone speaking publicly.

6. Make Frequent Eye Contact

Making eye contact keeps the audience engaged as no one wants to be caught drifting off or ignoring a speaker. If you catch someone not looking at you while you are speaking, make eye contact with them and repeat it every few moments to maintain their attention. If catching their eye initially is difficult, take a few steps in their direction. Sometimes all a person needs is a reminder that there are other things going on in a room and their attention should be reverted.

7. Keep Them Interested

A person is naturally equipped to change focus every few minutes. To keep your audience from losing their focus on you, change your method of delivery every few minutes. Add in a story that relates to the listener and your topic, apply humor (if you feel comfortable with it), or present the material in a new way.

Teachers use this method daily in a classroom. Those teachers who are considering today's lower attention spans change activities for students every 10-12 minutes and rotate the type of activities from passive to active regularly. Take a cue from teachers and interchange your method of delivery to keep and sustain the attention and focus of your audience.

Whether you are presenting your ideas to a potential client, attempting to motivate your staff, or providing crucial instruction to a group of 15 year olds, these tips will help you ensure that your audience is engaged, focused, and ready to hear what it is you have to say.

How do you keep listeners listening? Please tell us about it in comments — we're all ears!

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