One quick question to get your audience's attention

Effective communicators ensure listeners are tuned in when they need them to be.

Bullhorn
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Can I get your attention?

This was one of my father-in'law's favorite sayings. He really didn't say it often, but when he did, you knew it was time to listen. Rather than being annoying, it actually served a great purpose. It also proved to be a great teaching tool for leadership.

You see, as leaders, we need to have people's attention before we attempt to communicate a message. Sending out a message without the audience being ready to listen, well, falls on deaf ears.

Think of Sirius or XM radio, for example. You get lots of channels, but as a listener, you have to get tuned in to your selection to hear what you need.

So, as a leader, how do you get your team's attention?

  • Simply ask for it. If you are in a team meeting session, just say "OK folks, can I have your attention?" You don't have to be rude or demanding, just matter of fact.
  • Be silent for a moment. Have you ever tried to stand at a podium, or at the front of a room, and say nothing? I can have the amazing effect of calming the room. (Of course, it only works when the audience is expecting you to speak).
  • Offer something worth listening to. This attribute accumulates over time. You have to build it. It is part of your reputational brand. Think about the quality of your content. 
  • If the situation warrants, listen first. Give the courtesy of listening first before you ask to be heard.
  • Make things interactive. Get feedback on your points as you unfold the message. Don't just preach or lecture.

Another thing to consider is whether you quickly lose your audience after you get their attention. Look for these signs:

  • fidgeting in the seats
  • shuffling papers
  • starting to talk among themselves
  • and of course, people walking out (ouch)

If you see any of these signs, it's time to refocus and regain audience attention. It is very impractical to keep plowing ahead with your message when the audience is trying to change the channel.

One or two people on the team always seem who insist on "one-upping" anything anyone else has to say. These people need to be handled privately. It is best to call them in beforehand, especially when an important announcement is brewing. My preference is to deal with them immediately after the first big interruption they cause.

These ideas seem very simple on the surface, but I continue to be amazed at how many executives fail to manage this very vital part of effective communication. All it takes is a simple tweak to ensure that you, as a leader, can get people's attention when you need them to listen.

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