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Psst! Here's How to Get People to Listen to You

Thursday, 7 Mar 2013 | 10:10 AM ET
Les and Dave Jacobs | Cultura | Getty Images

Whenever you talk with other people, whether it's a presentation, a job interview, or a police interrogation, your attention has only three places to go:

1) You. Your hair; your shoes; your alibi.

(Good): Some attention needs to go inward because a presentation is a physical act, and you need to notice, from time to time, what you're doing—where you're standing, how your voice is projecting, and so on.

(Bad): Too much attention on YOU makes you feel self-conscious.

(Read More: Mistakes to Avoid When Leading a Meeting)

Recently, I trained a group of facilitators at a large company to lead a workshop on the "Manager's Role in Career Development."

"My biggest fear," said one facilitator, "is that an audience of managers won't listen to me. I'm not a manager. Some days, I'm not even sure I have a career."

Everyone worries about his/her image. The question is, how much?

2) Your material.

(Good): Your material demands attention.

The other day, I watched a senior exec kick off an important meeting. She only spoke for a few minutes, and probably figured she could wing it.

Big mistake. She ended up rambling, losing her audience, and also losing some credibility.

(Read More: Making a Mistake Does Not Mean Your Career Is Over.)

All she really needed were a few things—a strong opening, a strong close, and a focused message—to make a big difference.

(Bad): If you're too focused on the material, you get buried in details—too many Power Point slides, too many bulleted lists, too much information.

You forget how little people remember.

3) Your audience.

(Good): The best presenters focus on the audience. Suppose, for example, you're presenting that workshop on Managing Career Development.

"Think of someone," you ask your audience, "who made a big difference in your career. Could be anyone—a parent, a past manager, a former parole officer. What did he/she do?"

Then, you relate their answers to a few best practices, and you ask your audience to assess themselves against those practices.

You're still doing a lot of talking, but it feels conversational. And your audience stays engaged for one simple reason: it's about them.

(Bad): You're overly concerned with your audience's emotional state. If someone looks bored and then—oh, no!—walks out, you feel distraught.

You've confused their reactions with your self-worth. But they don't need to love you. Because it's not about you.

Tip: Practice. Practice makes you less self-conscious, and more comfortable with your material. Practice frees your attention.

Then, when it's time to speak, check your appearance, check your talking points. But focus on your audience.

(Read More: Career Advice: How Focused Are You?)

Paul Hellman is the Founder of Express Potential. He is a consultant, speaker, author, and columnist, who has helped thousands of professionals improve their effectiveness at work.

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