How to Speak so That People Want to Listen

Your voice is the most powerful tool in the world – so why don’t people always listen?

When browsing the internet trying to discover the average attention span of an adult, the majority of studies concluded that it was only 8 seconds – shorter than that of a goldfish. I found these statistics in Time Magazine, the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today and the New York Times. After some wider reading, researchers found that it ultimately depends on how engaging the topic is to the individual. As b2b market researchers, we are constantly delivering presentations, giving tailored advice and recommendations to enhance the business performance of our clients and storytelling. There are various elements to a well-told story which revolve around the use of surprise, controlling the amount of information given and direct engagement with the audience. It involves transforming any logical, defensible, scientific or serious speech into one that is thought-provoking to listen to, developing your findings into recommendations into a structure which is simple and easy to retain; so how do we ensure that our audience is engaged at all times?

Research conducted in the US found that listening is equally as draining as thinking – the more information we have to take in weighs down our cognitive backlog and eventually we drop it, failing to remember the information which we have been told. I recently watched a Ted Talk regarding this topic. Ted Talks are streamed over 2 million times per day, so it is possible to say that most presentations around the world are now being compared to them, which is why we need to consider how to keep our audience focused and engaged.

For this to happen, there are 7 “deadly sins” we should always avoid when talking to others:

  1. Gossip
  2. Judging
  3. Negativity
  4. Complaining
  5. Excuses
  6. Exaggeration
  7. Dogmatism

Be honest – how many of these are you guilty of?

Speaking ill of those who are not present, blame throwing and not being accountable for your actions and conflating facts with opinions are all factors which ultimately lead to a lack of credibility when talking to others.

Rather, there are 4 foundations to stand on if we want our speech to be powerful and stand out from others.

  1. Honesty
  2. Authenticity
  3. Integrity
  4. Wishing people well

Focusing on these foundations automatically drives you away from these deadly sins – it becomes difficult to wish somebody well whilst judging them or speaking negatively at the same time. Similarly, those who are honest and have integrity have strong, moral principles and would shy away from excuses and exaggeration – thus making your speech more sincere, retaining the attention of your audience. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is used for personal development within businesses, involves understanding how individuals organise their thinking, feeling, language and behaviour to produce the results that they do. With this in mind, there are ways people can optimise the tone of their voice for different situations to further engage their audience, of which there are various examples:

  • Registering your voice – Individuals can swap from talking through their nose, throat or chest – those who speak from their chest often have a deeper voice which has connotations of power – research has found that as a nation, we vote for politicians with the deepest voices.

  • Pace – speaking slowly to emphasise your point, followed by period of silence.

  • Prosody – changing the tone of your voice so that it is not monotonous, for example, raising your voice when you ask a question.

These attributes may not apply to every speech, presentation or conversation you may have, however, they are certainly worth incorporating and tailoring to your target audience to ensure that your voice is given the credibility it deserves.

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