How to Talk So People Will Listen

4 Minute read…

If your job requires speaking on any level, the last thing you want is for people to stop listening.

Sure, they may be physically present, but that doesn’t mean they are emotionally or intellectually present.

When I worked in student ministry, I knew if the students were listening. They certainly did not attempt to hide their disinterest. As a growing communicator, I regularly saw the backs of heads or kids on phones. There were moments when students would literally turn around and sit facing the opposite direction! Their public disengagement was proof of their disinterest.

Adults are a bit harder to read, though. Most adults know how to look interested even when they aren’t. As a communicator, adults won’t give us the easy and obvious cues that display their interest.

This means we must institute some communication practices to ensure their interest.

There are many reasons people lose interest. Here are 6 of the greatest offenders with some advice to improve:

1. They don’t feel connected to you.

If you don’t establish some connection before the communication, the audience will tune you out. People must feel connected to the messenger before connecting to the message. Be sure to establish some audience connection right from the start.

I wrote a lot more about this HERE:

People will give you a minute or two to connect with them. If you waste that time, you’ve lost their interest.

2. They don’t feel connected to the content.

If the audience doesn’t see your message as a solution to their problem, they’ll stop listening. People walk around constantly asking, “What’s in it for me?” It’s unfortunate, but people are inherently selfish. If your message doesn’t provide a suggested solution, you’ll lose the crowd.

Here’s the real trick, though: If people know a solution is pending, they will stick around. This is why it’s so critical to elevate a felt or unfelt need to the surface early in your presentation. We call this “adding a tension.” Tension heightens and maintains attention. If you don’t provide any tension, the crowd won’t pay attention.

3. They can’t follow the message.

Stories are easy to follow. This is why a movie can last two or more hours. Stories all follow a relatively standard format and formula. The journey of a good story takes you on an emotional and intellectual trip. A great message feels a lot like a good story journey.

An audience can only follow a message that takes them somewhere. As a communicator, when you think like a guide, you’ll begin constructing messages like a journey, from one idea to the next like stepping stones along a path.

If people stop listening, it could be because they can’t follow the journey you’re on, leaving you going for a walk all alone.

4. They are challenged but not inspired.

It’s easy to tell people what’s wrong. It’s slightly harder to tell them how to make it better practically. The most difficult skill is to inspire them to apply the solution.

Too many communicators leave out the application. They identify a problem and present what’s true, but they don’t tell the audience precisely what to do. Information without application is unhelpful.

But, application without inspiration feels like a path full of pain. By default, people prefer the path of least resistance. The only way to move people down the application path is to inspire them to try.

If people only see pain in their future, they’ll not try, and they’ll stop listening.

5. They don’t feel anything.

One of the most important questions we can ask as we craft content is, “What do I want them to feel?” “What is true?” and “what can they do?” are good starting questions, but “what do I want them to feel?” helps keep people engaged.

Don’t forget; feelings go far and wide. Laughter and joy are feelings, just as are conviction and confidence. Look at all the emotions present on a feelings wheel!

When you craft content, decide in advance what emotions best match each segment along your journey and intentionally build them into the path. People will remain engaged if we keep them emotionally interested.

6. They only feel ashamed.

There are a few emotions we should bypass. Shame is at the of the avoidance list. People will undoubtedly feel convicted at some point, especially if you are a preacher. Like I said above, though, the span of emotion is far and wide.

Too many communicators (pastors) lean into one and only one emotion – shame. Shame is a terrible motivator for change. Shame makes us feel bad about who we are, not what we’ve done or what we could do. When you lead people to feel they are a problem, you lose the opportunity to inspire them to solve their problems.

Simply put, shame repels. The minute people begin to sense shame around the corner, they emotionally and intellectually turn their back.

Bottom Line: It’s not the audience’s fault if they fail to listen. That’s our fault.

How can I help?

Helping ministry and marketplace leaders make things better and make better things is why I created Transformation Solutions. That includes coaching presenters and communicators through the process of crafting and delivering content.

Go right now to and sign up for a free, 15-minute conversation to decide if working together works for you.

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