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Who’s Really Listening?

Posted Sep 26 2011 7:35am

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I attended a psychology conference this past week, and since my university sponsored the event I had to help out with registration and moderating sessions.

One of the sessions I had to moderate was titled “Helping families recover from the Oil Spill” (or something of the sort).

My reaction was “Eck! How’d I get stuck with this one? And the oil spill? Wasn’t that forever ago? We don’t have oil spills in Baltimore so this isn’t even related to my work. Maybe I can sneak out midway through.”

Well apparently a lot of other people thought the same thing because only 2 people showed up for the talk…and one of those people left before it even got started. So there for a total of 4 people in the room: the 2 speakers, 1 listener, and me (the moderator).

I felt for them. And I bet you would have too because no one wants to be speaking to an empty row of chairs. Afterwards I kept thinking about this session. It made me wonder, who’s really listening and why do we listen to some more than others?

1. Bad title.

Whether it’s a title of a book, blog post, email, movie, whatever – titles matter. It’s the first glimpse a reader gets to see if somethings relevant or interesting for them. For instance a book titled “I blame grad school for everything” would be an immediate purchase for me, but probably not for those non-academic types.

Or the title might be intriguing enough for me to take a second peek. The NY Times bestselling book “The Night Circus” caught my eye because it reminded me (a) I liked Water for Elephants, (b) the circus is an exciting setting for a book, and (c) there’s probably some mystery or romance involved. I got all of that from a title which subsequently increased my chances of buying the book.

Take time to think about titles because they will impact who ends up being your potential audience.

2. Not the right audience.

Let’s say I bought a book titled, “I blame grad school for everything” (side note, my blog is the 2nd hit on google when you type that in. I might copyright that slogan, so don’t steal it). What if I opened it up and saw it was only about people attending grad school for marine biology. Well clearly the author didn’t have me in mind, so I wouldn’t buy it.

If you know your audience, it takes out a lot of guess work for what you should be including in your book, presentation, blog, etc. In general people tend to like: good writing, humor, pretty pictures, and clear organization. Whatever else you want to add in is up to you.

3. People don’t know you.

If you aren’t well connected, you’re going to have to work extra hard to get an audience. Celebrities can easily gain thousands of Twitter followers and best seller status for their memoirs because people know them. Odds are most people don’t know who you are and don’t care to know you either. It’s up to you to prove them wrong.

Teach them something, be an expert, show off your skills, and tell them about the people you do know. If you know similar people, your foot is in the door and now they are paying attention to what you’re saying.

As your Kindergarten teacher explicitly told you: introduce yourself, play nice, share, show respect, keep your space neat, listen to others, and most importantly don’t eat the glue.

Do you feel like people (coworkers, husband, wife, friends, kids) are listening to what you have to say? If not, what’s standing in your way of being heard?

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