A weekly essay on better writing. With jokes. VIEW ONLINE | FORWARD
Mike Long | Writer, Speechwriter, and Speaker Logo
Get Mike's tips in your inbox. Subscribe today!
Share these tips!

Michael Long is a speaker, writer, and educator.

To discuss hiring Mike for your project, email him.


Share these tips!

Listening Is Hard!

That's what the audience is up against. Here's how to help them.

A few years ago, a speechwriter friend of mine shared an observation that I have never forgotten: Listening is hard.

When you’re in the audience for a speech, your job is to think about what you’re hearing, to separate what’s valuable from what’s not, to calculate how the speaker’s self-interest affects what you're hearing, to identify what you're supposed to do with this information, then to decide whether or not to do it.

Phew! Who knew listening to a speech was so demanding? 


It’s hard to fight distraction, to avoid stealing a glance at your phone, to not whisper that snarky remark to your friend, to let go of the work back at your desk. Then there’s the perpetual put-on-a-happy-face challenge: you have to look interested even if you're not.

I was on the phone not long ago with two people who had attended my speechwriting seminar. (Invite me to deliver a seminar for your office, virtually or in person.) We debated what the most useful single piece of advice might be for any writer, anytime. You can guess my nominee.

I said, “Always keep in mind that listening is hard. Human beings naturally seek distraction. We want relief from the hard work of sustained focus, and we can focus for only so long before we will take a break whether we can afford to or not."

"It’s the writer’s job to plan for that," I said. "Make your material so compelling, so well structured, and so accessible that the audience can’t help but stay tuned.”


Making the audience’s job easier makes the writer’s job harder, but that’s part of the bargain. It’s the clever writers who get the work, get the raises, get the praise -- and who get the job done. The good news is it’s a skill you can cultivate. I may teach those skills, but, like you, I work to reinforce those skills every day.
Write with the audience’s in-the-moment feelings in mind. Ask yourself: will this make them more interested, or less?

Don’t kid yourself that some sentence can skip the test. You may think you've written a "necessary interstitial" that carries the audience to the next point, and perhaps you have.

But the test still matters. Assume everything you write makes people less interested unless you've made sure it does the opposite.

You’re either pulling them along or you’re not. There's no third way, no pause, and no pass.

For a library of snackable video tips --
plus Q&A with Mike anytime --
join The Magic Show.
Clilck here for a bonus offer.

Every sentence has to deliver value in the form of intriguing fact, persuasion, conflict, validation, fight-picking, sound, rhythm, request, admonition, argument, humor, drama, fear, or any of dozens of other options.

If you imagine that your audience is so serious or your topic so important that you don't have to make an effort to keep their attention, you've already lost. At some point in every narrative journey, members of the audience will revert to being reactive human beings in need of at least a nugget of amusement.

Your job as a writer is to act on that truth. "It's important" won't keep them listening or reading. We are creatures of feeling far more than fact. As I often say, write as if your readers don’t care.

Then make them care with every line.

Mike's Calendar
Topic Organization Date Location
Speechwriting for Military Writers and Others Georgetown University Aug 26-28 Online 
Register by clicking here.
Creative Writing Georgetown University Sep 23 - Oct 28 (weekly) Online 
Register by clicking here.
Speechwriting: The Method & The Art Professional Speechwriters Association Sep 29 -
Oct 2
Register by clicking here.
PR Writing Series Trade Association October 1 Washington, DC
PR Writing Series Trade Association October 8 Washington, DC
PR Writing Series Trade Association October 14 Washington, DC
Emcee for Marketing Convention Private Nov 4 Washington, DC
European Festival of Political Rhetoric European Speechwriters Network Nov 6-27 Online
Registration TK

Click here to share this newsletter.

Hire me to teach, speak, or write. I'm at Mike@MikeLongOnline.com.

© 2020 Mike Long. All rights reserved.
Burke, VA  22015
You're getting this email because you opted in online. If you don't want to get it anymore, just click on the unsubscribe link and you're outa here!