"This Is Important!" Isn't Enough
People don't pay attention just because the material is important.
They listen because you compel them to do so.
I teach at Georgetown, and I collect a lot of homework. I don't have time to guess whose paper is whose, so at the start of each semester I tell my students this: Write your name and section number on the first page of your assignment, then staple the papers together. If you don't, I will lower your grade.
Yet when I collect that first batch of homework, several students will not have done what I so clearly explained. And I lower their grade.
Most speakers and writers take the same approach when sharing important material: They assume it's so important that they don't need to persuade anybody to listen or read. Some of the excuses these leaders make?
They work for me.
These are smart folks.
Their job depends on it.
Translation: It’s so important, they’ll listen.
Except they won’t.
People don’t listen just because something is important. Even dire consequences are little incentive. (See above.)
We listen because we are compelled to.
As my friend and colleague Dana Rubin, founder of New York's Leadership Communications Roundtable, once told me, Listening is hard. (She should know! She remembers this years later from a talk that held her in rapt attention.) Listening requires us to focus exclusively on unfamiliar information, process it, remember it, then remember later to do something with it.
In other words, listening requires significant effort. That means we need constant encouragement to do it.
So make it easy.
A good speaker (or writer) makes an audience desire to listen.
Such a leader uses tools from across the arsenal of rhetoric: humor, drama, prosody, personality, structure, and more.
And I know what you're boss is going to say -- But this is the exception! -- so let me answer before you can ask: There is no proposition so grave, no topic so serious, no event so important, and no speaker so gifted that unadorned material will have significant impact.
Don't assume they'll listen just because it's important.
Ten minutes into most talks and the audience is squirming, yet 90 minutes into a good movie and the audience feels they’ve barely sat down.
Why is that?
Because successful filmmakers make it a priority to be compelling.
As a writer or a speaker, you have to do that, too.
I have a single, one-on-one coaching slot opening up in early August. You get weekly, personalized sessions with homework and feedback. Interested? Email me.
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