If People Do Not Really Hear What You Say, What’s The Use?
By Steve Schumacher
Over the years, I have given hundreds of talks, seminars and workshops. As a professional, certainly money is important, but my passion is for people to take what I say, put it into practice, and see a measurable difference. That is what drives me in my career.
Given that passion, it is imperative that I package my words in a way that people will actually hear them. If they do not hear me, there is no chance of them implementing my ideas. I know that, on my best day, I can only talk at about 150 to 200 words per minute. I also know that my audiences’ brains can absorb between 500 to 600 words per minute. I want them to fill that gap with anticipation of what I am going to say next and replaying what I have just said versus thinking about shopping, what is for lunch, the big game, etc.
As a manager, you find yourself in a lot of situations where you talk to people. In one-on-one meetings, in staff meetings, safety meetings, presentations at quarterly manager meetings, budget meetings, etc. When you move into management, a great deal of your time is taken up with talking to people. You certainly cannot control whether others are going to give you 100 percent of their attention, but there are a number of things you can do to influence the odds of them paying attention.
In one-on-one meetings. These meetings probably occupy the majority of your human interactions throughout the day. They can take the form of meetings in an office, standing in the hallway, talking together while viewing a part of the operation, or many other work settings. Make sure you are giving the other person your full attention and they will do the same for you.
If you can, let them know what the agenda is in advance, even if it is a one-liner of what you hope to accomplish from the discussion. When you are speaking, look the person directly in the eye and make sure the tone of your voice is loud enough to be heard. If you are the boss, your employees will not automatically tell you they do not understand what you said.
Given that reality, after you make a point, ask if it was clear to the listener. Remember, you are the boss and your employees do not want to look stupid to you, so check their understanding often in discussions.
When you are talking, people will actively listen for about 20 seconds (Green light). From 20 seconds to 40 seconds they are waiting for you to stop talking (Yellow light). After 40 seconds they have tuned out (Red light).
In staff meetings. If you are the leader of the meeting, send out an agenda in advance saying what you want to accomplish in the meeting. That will help everyone stay on track with the discussions. Stand up when you are talking, if possible, and speak at a volume that can be heard by the person furthest away from you. When others chime in, make sure either you or they summarize what they said.
When you want to make particularly important points, consider having a flipchart in the room so you can write the main points for everyone to see versus hear. If you are a participant in a staff meeting, speak clearly and scan the group with your eye contact. People tend to remember what they heard first and what they heard last, so make your strongest points when you start talking and when you finish.
When giving presentations. I have seen way too many people put together fancy PowerPoint presentations, click on the projector and read the slides word for word. There is no surer way to get people to tune out than to do exactly that.
If you are going to use PowerPoint, limit the number of slides and only put a few words on each slide. Use the touch-turn-talk method with PowerPoint. Touch the point on the slide you want to emphasize, turn back to the audience, and talk about the detail about the point. Make sure your eye contact scans the room, stopping occasionally on each person.
When you have a very strong point to make, emphasize it by walking directly toward the audience. Your audience will be watching your body language very closely, so make sure it is assertive and in control.
There is a truism about giving presentations – tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. The key to it is strong introductions and summaries.
You make a huge investment of your time each day talking to people. In order to get a return on that investment, make sure you are speaking in a way that people hear and understand you.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].