Stop hogging the conversation with clients and higher-ups. How to share your insights while encouraging listener engagement
Are you really paying attention to your listeners' social cues when presenting? Columnist Matt Umbro explains why it's critical to stop talking and instead encourage participation in a conversation.
I’m sure we all know people who like to talk for extended periods and hog the conversation. Even if they are saying relevant things, it’s a challenge to listen uninterrupted for so long. By the definition of conversation according to Merriam-Webster, the concept is an “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” When one person seems to be speaking in monologues, it can be difficult to engage in an actual conversation.
I bring up this sentiment because many of us are guilty of talking too long without even realizing it. There are times when we should stop talking but don’t. We may miss social cues, or we’re too invested with what we are saying to stop. We don’t realize the negative impact this action has on our listeners.
Even when it’s our job as service providers to explain the rationale behind our work and results, we should not monopolize the conversation. While explaining, we also need to engage our listeners and ensure they feel that they belong in the conversation. Let’s review ways in which you can identify when you have been speaking for extended time periods and how to ensure your listeners are a part of the conversation.
Pay attention to social cues
Oftentimes, we frame our communication based on the personality and knowledge level of our listeners. For example, we’re more likely to go in-depth about account initiatives for listeners who prefer more detail, while we will speak at a higher level for those who want the 30,000-foot view.
We also can use some cues to determine when it’s time to stop talking:
- They look like they want to say something, or even get a word out, but then stop talking.
- They don’t look engaged, or their eyes are wandering.
- They make hand gestures indicating it’s time to move on.
These cues are primarily meant for in-person communication; however, variations can be applied to calls as well.
For example, instead of listeners looking like they want to say something, they may try to get a word out over the phone. When you hear this interruption, it may be time to stop speaking. Or, vice versa, if you aren’t hearing anything after you’ve been speaking for an extended period, you may deduce that your listeners aren’t as engaged. No matter the case, it may be time to stop talking and re-engage your audience.
Realize when you are talking in circles
Chances are, if you’ve been speaking for longer than two or three minutes, it’s time to give the floor to someone else. Generally, when you’ve been speaking for this long, you start to repeat yourself or discuss items that aren’t pertinent to the topic at hand.
Even if you are going over a report, stop to take a breath and ask if there are any questions or feedback. It’s not just the content of our message, but how we explain it.
I’ve had experiences in my career where I was producing good results, but the client and I didn’t have a great rapport. We didn’t always understand each other, and our conversations weren’t fluid. This issue was only part of the problem, but it contributed to the overall lack of chemistry.
My general rule of thumb is “one theme per talking point.” For example, if I’m reviewing a monthly report, I’ll first speak to the analysis, and then take a break. I’ll then review last month’s major initiatives and take a break. Finally, I’ll speak to industry news, and then pause. Instead of including all of these themes into one extended speaking point, I’ll break them up, pausing for engagement after each talking point.
As a final note, it’s up to you to realize when you have been speaking for too long. Be cognizant of your speaking habits and pause when necessary.
Along with looking for cues, assess what you are saying. If you feel like you are talking in circles, chances are your listeners do as well.
To this point, we’ve discussed how to realize when you’ve been talking for too long. Now let’s review how to encourage better listener participation.
Engage your listeners
Just as important as the words you speak is the way your listeners interpret them. That’s why it’s critical for you to engage your listeners and make them a part of the conversation. As both parties feel more invested, they share more information, and the other person begins to see you as a partner, rather than solely as a service provider.
Even for those listeners who are introverted or speak sparingly, you should at least make the effort to encourage participation. Here are some ways you can engage your audience.
- Ask questions after you speak. For example, after reviewing the monthly analysis, ask if the numbers are in line with other channels. Or ask about the quality of leads coming through.
- Throw out new ideas. Especially during monthly calls, I always try to reserve five or 10 minutes for brainstorming. This session gives both the client and me time to throw ideas out and see what sticks. Engagement tends to be high from both sides, and it’s a way to continue moving accounts forward.
- Engage in small talk. Though not directly related to account initiatives, asking how things are going or inquiring about the weather encourages your listeners to open up. If they are comfortable with you, they’re likely to participate more in the conversation.
Remember that as service providers, our job is to continually foster good results. A key component is getting our listeners involved in the conversation. Make sure that you are inviting engagement.
It’s easy to keep talking and not realize the potential damage to the conversation and how we are seen through our listeners’ eyes. The first step is being cognizant of your speaking patterns. If you are talking too much, look for the cues and try to set your own limits.
Often, less is more. Make sure you are communicating your message in a concise enough manner that also encourages listener engagement.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.