No matter how skilled, charismatic, or engaging a person may be, it is difficult to keep listeners engaged on Zoom, teams, WebEx, etc. Since listeners have the power to decide whether to listen or not, leaders must avoid making the following dangerous listener assumptions.
Dangerous Assumption #1
Speakers control communication.
With most employees working remotely and on videos calls, it is more difficult to gauge engagement. Speakers miss nonverbal cues when they’re not face-to-face or cameras and microphones are off. Since listeners choose whether to listen or not, speakers and facilitators must plan even more carefully for ways to gain attention.
What to do:
💡 At the start of any call/meeting/program, clarify the value of your message and offer persuasive reasons to listen.
💡 Ask participants to keep their cameras on so you can view nonverbal behavior.
💡 Use a virtual platform that allows you to see as many people as you can.
💡 Build in interactive strategies (chats, polls, breakout rooms, etc.) every 6-8 minutes.
Dangerous Assumption #2
Listeners start listening when speakers start talking.
Today, listeners go from virtual meeting to virtual meeting with few breaks in between. While you may be carefully prepared to speak, many listeners enter meetings distracted, have other things on their mind and are not ready to listen to you.
What to do:
💡 Give listeners at least a few seconds to shift gears or transition mentally before you begin. A quick check-in helps focus people’s energy.
💡 Reduce distractions at the start, e.g., ask participants to mute their microphones when not speaking, turn on cameras, etc.
💡 Ask a question to set the stage and invite participant voices in the “room.”
💡 Use unexpected tools to capture attention (flash the lights, use music, use a chime, etc.)
Dangerous Assumption #3
Listeners remember what is most important to you.
Speakers and listeners both overestimate how much information listeners will remember. Even highly trained listeners have trouble remembering technical and unfamiliar information. Sadly, after a 10-minute talk, most people remember less than 50% of what was said. That percentage drops to less than 10% after 24 hours. And, unfortunately, listeners remember what is most interesting or important to them — which may not be what the speaker intended.
What to do:
💡 Include a preview of your key messages with a rationale for why it is important.
💡 Organize content in a way that is easy to remember (three points, chronological order, etc.).
💡 Use specific, compelling stories, concrete examples and unusual facts.
💡 Repeat and reinforce key points or ask listeners to summarize at the end.
💡 Apply the words of Aristotle: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Listeners need reinforcement of key messages.
Leaders who are enthusiastic about what they want to say often forget that listeners are the ones in control of their own attention. Avoid making dangerous listening assumptions and remember that listeners have the power to choose to whom and when to listen.
Kittie Watson, Ph.D.
President & Founder