We retain 5-10% of what we hear. Do you recall the last meeting, conference, or class you attended? Did you apply what you learned?
To improve your listening, increase appreciation for the efforts and motivations of the speaker. (Most people have good intentions; assume this.)
Don’t focus on mannerisms, accents, or incorrect word use. Focus on the message. Look for new points and expand the things you already know.
Everyday conversation requires keen listening ability. Observe the direction of each conversation. Don’t veer. Listen for clues about where they want the conversation to go. Don’t interrupt. Listen from an alternative viewpoint. Have the objective of gaining fresh insight.
If possible, consider in advance what will be discussed. Attending a panel discussion or debate? Educate yourself on two opposing positions.
Read more. Keep up with local publications, trade publications, and any press releases in your industry. Taking in plenty of information ensures you’ll be a well-rounded conversationalist.
Are you caring for a sick relative, going through a divorce, or did you yell at your child this morning? It may be difficult to concentrate. Anxieties of life distract us. Noise and movement around the room may temporarily redirect our attention. Physical discomfort like a freezing room or a pinched nerve may make concentration fleeting.
Counteract these distractions. List the tasks you have to accomplish after the event. Write down the worries that occupy your mind. If there is no emergency, decide that you will not think about them until later.
Keep your eyes on the speaker. Resist the temptation to turn your head in the direction of noise or movement.
Leil Lowndes discusses the difference between big winners and little losers in her book, How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships. She says, “Nobody likes to be reminded of their own human frailty.” The author cites examples; a waiter dropping a tray and coffee spilled at a meeting. She says the big winners ignore the faux pas and move on.
My mom would say (of commonplace bloopers and embarrassing biological functions), “A polite person ignores it.”
Big Event Listening
At large gatherings there are more distractions. Conference attendees are tweeting, texting, or otherwise engaged with their mobile devices. Not that I’m one to discourage tweeting at conferences; this is my favorite time to use Twitter. But do so in a way that doesn’t detract from the session.
Take a couple of pictures and brief notes. Tweet during intermission. Don’t allow your notes or tweets to get so involved that you hear every other 140 characters.
Get enough rest. On a recent trip I found myself existing on only four hours sleep. Not a good way to travel. Travel at reasonable times. Give yourself a curfew. And perhaps a drink limit.
Each morning before sessions begin, preview the topics. Fix the theme in mind and anticipate what you’ll learn.
Gain More Than Trivia
Perhaps you enjoy collecting interesting trivia. Unless you’re destined for gameshow fame and fortune, focus on the destination, objective, or action to be taken. What does the speaker want you to do? Be determined to walk out of the room with one or two concrete actions you will take. Write them down. Even better, put them on your calendar or task list.
Listen with your Body
Nod along. Give eye contact. Take notes. Don’t be afraid to look confused. Ask well-thought out and appropriately timed questions.
As a natural introvert, feedback encourages me to give more. An involved audience makes for a better speech.
A woman who attended a four-week course with me at the local tech college had remarkable facial expressions. I knew exactly what she was thinking. I could tell if I was going too slowly, too fast, or if she was completely lost. On the last day of class I found out that both of her parents were deaf. Sign language was her first language and she had learned in a remarkable way, how to be expressive.
A young lady gave me constant eye contact while I was speaking at a conference in Austin, Texas. I later found out she was from the Ukraine. I told her how much I appreciated her feedback. She informed me that giving her full attention ensured she understood every word, even when I tend to talk fast.
When we study body language we think we already know it. It seems logical, makes sense. You’re right, it does, but we forget to think about it. Forget to keep our own bodies in check. I encourage you to read What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro and Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy.
Do you have more tips for effective listening? Please comment below or email me at terra(at)fletcherconsulting(dot)com