We live in an attention deficit economy, where most of us aren’t listening most of the time. So, what makes you pay attention? When someone starts speaking – be it on a conference call or in a meeting, what makes you think ‘I’m in; I want to really pay attention to what they have to say’? My focus this month has been coaching my clients to do precisely this – especially given the fast paced, remote working, global village, horizontal leadership team world in which we all live.
I believe that we have about 6 -10 seconds (at most) to ‘hook’ our audience, convey presence and demonstrate impact through our contribution. We have this small window during which we need to entice, attract, intrigue, compel, appease, enthuse and motivate the listener to do just that – keep listening. If we don’t; we are lost to our audience, who become increasingly frustrated with our failure to make any kind of sense. Our presence and ability to influence evaporates and the message we wanted to communicate is sunk.
I remain astonished at the number of people who simply don’t ‘get it’. “But my message is so important!” “I’ve got great information” “No-one ever listens to what I say” are the cries (amongst others). The fact is that if we haven’t got the hook right, then no one cares about our great information because they stopped listening a while ago.
So what can we do? Well, I work with my clients to become better at the power of the ‘hook’ and here are three examples:
(a) Speak To My Priorities
If we are able to immediately speak to what is top of the agenda for the listener, then surprise, surprise, our audience will remain attentive. For example, if we are pitching to a sales leader who is focused on increasing profit from the existing client base, a simple example of a hook might be: “I have an idea that will help drive profit from one of our biggest clients”. Or, “We have a great example to share of how we increased margin by 20% on our last deal”. You get the point. Speak to what is uppermost in my mind and I will be (at least in the short term), hooked.
(b) Appeal To My Communication Style
If we are effective at ‘reading the room’ or ‘reading people’, then our hook can be one that appeals to the emotional state or preference of the other person. If we know that the other person likes analogy, metaphor, colloquialism, a sound-bite etc. then we should start with one ourselves. Remember, it can’t be too long. If, on the other hand, we are talking to a data, facts, figures person then clearly the strategy has to be the opposite. Provide me with a memorable fact, give me a statistic I will like or offer a piece of data that will standout. Again, we’re all the way in with our attention. Our challenge is to be behaviourally flexible with our approach.
(c) Be Contentious
This isn’t as aggressive or argumentative as it sounds. In other words the purpose of the hook here is to create attention through challenge. I hear a lot in business today of the need for leaders to be ‘more disruptive’. The intent behind this wish is to shake things up, challenge convention, think outside of the norms. When we publicly dissent or question a viewpoint we are in effect questioning those in the audience who hold that opinion. The notion of ‘social proofing’ – so validating each other through public recognition – is scrutinized. Our contribution doesn’t have to be theatrical; a simple statement such as ‘I disagree’ is an assertive but not aggressive way to gain the attention of others, not least because they want to understand why.
There are undoubtedly other strategies to ‘hook’ our audience but I will pause for now. Why? Because the next challenge once we’ve got the attention of our audience is to keep it and leave them wanting more.
Until next time……