How to Make People Want to Listen to You
Although I speak regularly in front of audiences from all walks of life, yesterday I found myself uncharacteristically nervous before I took to the stage.
I had the honor of speaking at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s annual Leadership Conference in New York, hosted by none other than the Sheriff himself, Dr. Errol Toulon (and former Speaking to Influence podcast guest from episode #101 back in January.)
Of course, I take all of my speaking engagements seriously, but somehow the idea of giving back to first responders by providing them with an experience that was worthy of serving as thanks for all they do for us every day felt like I had to set an even higher standard for myself than usual.
When I got to the stage, there was a much heavier, almost military energy in the auditorium full of very serious faces.
Undeterred, I launched right in with a story about my interaction with an officer who pulled me over for an illegal U-turn (oops) my first year teaching in south-central Los Angeles back in the ‘90s. It was complete with a photo of my first class of students, with me standing alongside them, complete with my 1990s “Jersey-Girl hair” and outfit to boot.
Ironically, I had a little trouble gauging engagement during the talk, as the spotlights on stage were rather blinding, I only heard soft waves of chuckles around the auditorium at points that normally would have gotten full belly-laughs from other audiences, and there were few questions at the end.
Had I gotten through? I wondered.
My silent question was answered in technicolor as soon as I finished. There were lines of people waiting to talk to me afterwards, and at every stretch or meal break in the program for the rest of the day, straight through the cocktail reception into the evening.
Each person shared their favorite parts of my talk and biggest takeaways, why it hit home with them, and asked for advice or tips for themselves or their teams on how to be more effective communicators in different contexts.
The common thread that wove implicitly through everyone’s respective comments was universal appreciation for what can be known as “infotainment.”
Infotainment, a.k.a. Information + entertainment, is a commonly misunderstood and underappreciated engagement strategy.
In the past, infotainment (or edutainment, in the world of education) was synonymous with dumbing-down your content, or otherwise being “content-lite”: e.g. 60 minutes of talking, consisting of a few value nuggets glued together with a lot of cute, fluffy, potentially fun filler. Infotainment was hardly the hallmark of the thought-leader or other expert.
There’s also the deeply ingrained fear among many people that adding any sort of personality, humor or fun to an otherwise serious topic would be a form of self-sabotage that would undermine the speaker’s authority, credibility and reputation. That gravitas and any sense of “fun” were mutually exclusive.
For many, the belief is that serious topics need to be addressed seriously if you want to be taken seriously, period.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is that humor and personal connection opens listening.
That’s because there is an instant dopamine hit. Remember that dopamine is one of the very addictive “happy hormones” that makes our brains say, “hey, that felt great; I want more!” And since you were the source, that means they want to listen to YOU even more.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT suggesting that you try out your new standup comedy routine at the next board meeting. But in the midst of an otherwise perfectly serious topic and discussion, like when I teach about leadership communication, executive presence, and influence, one of the most effective strategies I can use is to incorporate some moments of fun, as well as moments of heart-felt emotion, empathy or vulnerability, and aspirational vision.
No matter how important the information is, the ability to sprinkle in the right quality and quantity of humor at the right times to add some unexpected variety to the energy of the room can be the very difference between fully captivating an audience… or just holding them captive.
That’s why Infotainment is the topic of this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast episode . Tune in to get my top secrets, strategies and tips to help you effectively and authentically incorporate my most powerful teaching tool into your presentations and talks with any audience.
Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.
(FYI: That’s the perceived “magic” that makes clients invite me back for more half-day [3-4 hour] virtual trainings because everyone loved the first one, whereas most people can barely stand to be on a 30-minute video conference with each other without being bored out of their minds.)
And speaking of 30-minute videos, one that you absolutely can NOT afford to miss is the replay from last Friday’s LinkedIn Live/YouTube Live conversation with another former Speaking to Influence Podcast guest, Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO of Hawke Media.
Erik and I first connected over a year ago on Episode 53, and this time on Friday he walked us through how to proactively think through the stages of a new product, service or business launch. Start to finish, there were tons of immediately actionable take-aways you’ll want to add to your tool belt!
Catch the replay HERE.
At the core, it's the ability to shift from one stage to another, from serious to humorous and back, from one platform to another, with the confidence that conveys “I know exactly what I’m doing; you can trust me,” that creates the magnetic leadership style that ultimately makes people want to listen to you.