5 Ways to Get People to Actually Listen

3 min read ·


You may be a fact- and logic-driven leader, but others don't think like you do. Learn to get your point across through emotional connection.

Have you ever stood before an audience, uncertain whether you are truly connecting with them? Or, have you spoken to an employee who appears to be getting the message–but whose actions later tell another story?

To you, it's simple: Communicate your thoughts and the facts quickly and concisely and anyone will understand.

Not true. Facts and statistics may tell a story, but if you truly want to effect change and influence the way your audience thinks and feels, you will have to go beyond straightforward communications. The key to really getting people to listen–and act: Touch them on an emotional level.

Author Helio Fred Garcia, who is executive director of the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, reminds us that members of a typical audience don't think like leaders do. According to Garcia, your audience must be able to feel and experience your communications, or you simply won't have the impact that you set out to achieve.

"Humans are wired to connect with each other," says Garcia. "And we connect with one another by feeling, not thinking."

Why? Because of the structures in the brain that allow people to experience someone else's plight as if it were their own. These structures, called mirror neurons, are also referred to as empathy neurons.

"Emotion is now increasingly recognized as the key to moving hearts and minds," says Garcia. "All too often leaders assume that facts matter," he says. "That if only we let the facts speak for themselves, people will understand and agree with us."

In his latest book, The Power of Communication, Garcia notes that when leaders know they are not actually connecting they tend to double down and push more data and facts instead of trying a new approach. That's where things get really toxic. Here are five strategies Garcia says can help you stop reciting facts–and start making a true connection.

1. Keep your mouth shut–for a couple of moments.

Don't say anything substantive until you have an audience connection. Note that their first impression is visual, not verbal. You, the speaker, whether you are in front of a large group or a single employee, prospective investor, or prospect, have to be in complete command. You can gain that command by the way you carry yourself, before you even open your mouth. The body speaks before the mouth is open. Avoid rocking, looking down, and fidgeting. Stand and walk with confidence.

2. Get your audience engaged.

Get the eyeballs looking up before you say anything. Move with quiet confidence and smile, inviting people to look up and pay attention. Invite your audience to engage on the emotional level by offering a warm greeting. You might even ask them a question that prompts a response. It can be simple, as in: "How is everybody doing today?"

3. Grab their attention to make it memorable.

People remember the very first substantive that you say. Once you have their attention, jump right in to the most important thing you have to say. This powerful beginning will stick with your audience, creating the impact you're looking for.

4. Use verbal cues.

Use attention-provoking signals when you move from one part of the speech to the next. For instance, you might verbally number your key points or use other verbal signals like "Let's move on" or "My next topic is…" Always give the audience verbal cues to look up at you.

5. Recap what matters.

Take all of the substantive points from your talk and group them all together at the very end of the presentation. Remember your provoking signal and say something like, "In summary," then recap everything from your presentation that matters the most.

"In summary," your audience must be able to feel and experience your communications, or you simply won't have the impact that you set out to achieve.

So, how'd I do? Let me know, and let me know your best tips for captivating an audience below, or on Twitter.

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