In our haste to get our opinions out to others, we often forget an important question –does anyone care? The answer is typically a no. This may seem like a pessimistic worldview, but it would be better to assume so. Imagine every statement as a battle to win someone’s attention. People are bombarded by information from all angles –why do you stand out?
Substance and style are important but cannot exist without relevance. People need to resonate with the words you speak, or else you’re merely wasting their time. In other words, you’ve got to know your audience.
1) Identify the Angle of Approach
Different people want to hear different things. Psychic powers aside, the best way to identify what resonates with a person is to listen to them. Persuasion isn’t about you. It’s about them. Examine how they start a conversation; this allows you to identify their direction. Keep note of ideas or subject matter that they tend to fall back onto. Even their use of words can tell you what they are yearning to hear.
Personal experience with a person can also tell you about what they want to hear. By dealing with others on a daily basis, you can build an understanding of how they prefer ideas to be packaged. When persuading a formal audience, background research can be done to identify simple things such as ideologies, social strata and general interests.
2) Adapt Your Approach
Telling someone what they want to hear doesn’t mean you have to abandon your ideas. The same idea can be packaged differently to appeal to a person more effectively. For example, you could prioritize certain ideas that resonate more and use other ideas as secondary supports.
A basic example would be an investor that constantly brings up your marketing strategy. In your mind, you can’t wait to share your revolutionary product and all its great features. But you can’t do that just yet. You have to settle their initial worries first, and then sneak in the ideas you feel are important. Talking on your terms isn’t going to gel with them, but it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your ideas altogether.
3) Keep an Eye on Cues
Even after identifying the proper approach and adapting your substance to fit your listener, you still have to keep an eye out. Look for cues that show loss of attention. If your audience averts eye contact or rests back in their chairs, this could be a sign that they’re done listening. More often than not, you would be able to feel the loss of attention; it’s a knack that develops after a while.
Weird stares and semi-frantic movement could show that you’ve said something “wrong.” If so, either try to prove your “wrong” statement, or move on to reduce its impact. Or you could apologize; it really depends on the situation.
Unless you’re selling yourself, keep your conversations focused on your listener. People want to hear things that relate to them; they honestly don’t care what’s going on in your mind, mostly because they don’t understand your thought process and the way you value things. You have to play the game on their grounds. Identify and adapt.