This past weekend, I participated as a speaker in a training conference for young leaders. This is something I do every year, and that I enjoy immensely. It’s a great program, well designed, with lots of valuable information from multiple speakers. I spoke twice (both times on good communication skills) to two different subsets of the group, and it was an interesting contrast.
The first group was engaged, focused, and clearly listening. How do I know that? They asked lots of questions, there were people taking notes, and the eye contact and facial expression was pretty easy to decipher. The second group was a completely different experience. No one was taking notes. There were very few questions. The body language and facial expression was blank and unengaged. A few were reclining back, with feet up… you get the idea.
Now, it is entirely possible that my performance was better with the first group than the second. Maybe I just was doing a bad job the second time around. Or maybe the second group decided that the topic was less important to them… that would be a flawed conclusion on their part, but it is possible nonetheless. But regardless, the contrast was striking, and it made me think.
At The Latimer Group, we spend a lot of time thinking about listening skills and discussing the topic with our clients. But most of the time we are focused on listening as a lever in the effort to persuade. Most of the time we are talking about listening so that we can better understand our audience, learn more about what they care about, and use that information to shape our next message. All of that is important, but there are other, more fundamental reasons why listening is important.
Listening, and clearly showing that you are listening, is fundamentally a sign of respect for the speaker. When no questions are asked, when no one is writing anything down, when there is no positive reinforcement body language, the message we are sending to the speaker is “we don’t think this is very important.” And if that is your goal, if that is the message you want to send, then great. But keep in mind that it creates a very negative environment, and a lonely few minutes for the speaker. Standing up in front of the room and speaking to a dead audience that is not shy about letting you know it is dead, is a very lonely place.
I have written many times about the importance of the speaker earning the attention of the audience. The speaker has to work hard on the content and delivery to make sure it is valuable for the audience. But the audience also has a responsibility… to show some respect. Even if you are listening to a topic that you find less relevant, give the speaker a break… ask a question… take some notes… at least try to look like you are listening. Because if you show that respect to people when you are in the audience, then you are more likely to get the same respect the next time you are the one standing in front of the room.
Have a great day.
The Latimer Group currently offers a workshop for our clients on Listening Skills and Followership. It would be our privilege to have you and your team join the discussion. To learn more, e-mail us at info@TheLatimerGroup.com