How to Get People to Actually Listen
to What You’re Saying

See also: Giving a Speech

Maybe you’re giving a lecture, or you’re just having a conversation. Whatever the case is, you’re always trying to make a point.

You want people to understand where your arguments are coming from, and you want them to react to that point in a way that shows they are listening to what you’re saying.

The problem is: they are not always listening. You notice that in their distant look. Sometimes they get nervous and try to cut you off in a middle of a sentence. Being ignored - that hurts.

In such situations, it's easy to blame others.

  • Do they lack the attention span to process your great wisdom?
  • Maybe they are too tired?
  • Too lazy?
  • Plain rude?

It’s time to twist those questions around. What if you are the problem?

Be honest: who wouldn’t love to listen to a person who awakens their interest? If this person is making a boring speech, however, why should they bother listening? They would just get a headache.

It’s time to turn things around. Here you'll find practical tips on how to get people to actually listen to you when you speak.

1. Speak with a Clear Voice

The way you pronounce the words is important. If you talk too fast, the listeners won’t follow you. If you’re too slow, they will forget what you meant to say by the time you get to the end of the sentence.

Your speech should be completely natural.

Fortunately, this can be practiced.

  • Read the previous paragraph out loud. Then, try to say the same thing but without reading the text. Pay attention to your voice.
  • Keep practicing with paragraphs from online articles, books or magazines. Pronounce each and every word very carefully and don’t rush through the sentence.
  • Try to practice with your own speeches, too. Write something down and explain it to the mirror. Are you able to do that with a clear voice and tone? If not, keep practicing. The results will come.

The tone is just as important as the speed and clarity of speech. Do not talk too loud when you’re giving a presentation or explaining something. When people want to sound confident, they often talk too loud. When they lack confidence, the tone is too low. Keep the middle ground - that’s the point that shows true confidence.

2. Analyze Listeners and Give Them What They Expect

If you notice that a particular group of people constantly ignores you, analyze what they do react to.

  • Do they like comedy shows?
  • Do they like hearing about people’s experiences?
  • Do they just want facts?

When you become more confident and know what your audience wants, you’ll be able to adjust your speech to meet these expectations.

If you’re dealing with a new group of people, then you can relax. They will be interested by the mere fact that you’re a new person who has something to say. If you follow the remaining tips on our list, you’ll do just fine. It’s the people you already know who give you the most trouble as they are so used to you that they don’t expect anything interesting in your arguments.

That’s where you’ll need to make a change.

3. Mind Your Posture

If you hunch your shoulders forward, do you know how you look? Your audience will perceive you as lacking in confidence. They don’t see you as an authority. Some of them might feel sorry for you, but most won’t bother listening.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re standing or sitting; you should always maintain good posture.

  • A posture that conveys self-confidence is never stiff. It’s relaxed, but authoritative. Keep your back straight, but the shoulders relaxed.
  • The arms and hands are important. If you don’t know what to do with them, the audience will notice the confusion. Make small gestures to emphasize the important points in your speech. Don’t go overboard! If you’re sitting, keep your forearms on the table. 
  • Keep your legs slightly apart when you’re standing. Remember: you don’t want to come across as too stiff, and that’s exactly how you’ll look like if you keep your feet together. When you’re sitting, however, you should keep the knees together.
  • Show some movement. There’s a saying: “the best posture is always the next posture.” Make subtle, clean movements throughout your speech. You can practice this in front of the mirror, too.
For more see our pages on Body Language and Personal Appearance.

4. Remember to Breathe!

Have you noticed how you breathe faster when you’re nervous? If that happens, slow it down.

Your emotional state affects your breath, but the relation goes the other way around: when you calm the breath, you calm yourself down. If you catch yourself not breathing, it means you’re too stiff. Calm down, relax and breathe slowly!

But how is breathing going to make an audience pay attention to what you’re saying? Well, it helps keep your speech calm and controlled speech; and that’s progress.

You may find our pages: Overcoming Presentation Nerves and Relaxation Techniques helpful here.

5. Get Them Engaged

Who likes to listen to someone speaking while staying quiet all the time?

If you want your listeners to pay attention, you need to get them engaged.

  • Start with a warm greeting. This shows you’re approachable and they are not about to hear a robotic speech. A simple “Good to see you all here today. How are you doing?” will be a great start to your presentation.
  • With quiet confidence, ask them what they think about a point you’re making. Allow them to speak up if they have something to say. If they react, you’ll know they are listening to you.
  • Invite them to ask questions at the end of your presentation. See if they understood you well. If not, explain the points that need further explanation.

6. Shift Between Methods

You’ll keep listeners interested if you throw in a joke after making a serious point. Try to change method or focus every few minutes.

After a thorough explanation of a point, for example, you can share a personal experience that proves it. You can also add anecdotes and stories as these are nice ways to spice up your speech. Humor is always welcome if the topic of discussion is suitable for such an approach.

  • Use humor only if and when you’re comfortable with it. A forced joke is never a good thing.
  • Make sure the stories, examples, and anecdotes you use are related to your point. Don’t make digressions.
  • Change between the passive listening and active participation elements of the presentation. After a session of talking, ask an engaging question.

7. Avoid Negativity!

Sometimes you’re talking about serious topics that are not exactly positive. Famine, pollution, poverty… you can’t exactly be smiley about these things.

When we’re recommend avoiding negativity, this is what we mean:

  • Don't gossip. It just shows bad manners and people start thinking less of you. They will quickly stop paying attention if you turn your speech into gossiping.
  • Instead of complaining, show some solutions. If you’re constantly complaining about poverty, for example, you won’t hold people’s attention for too long. They know it’s bad. What they want to hear is what you and they can do about it. Elaborate the problem to show how serious it is, but focus on potential solutions.
  • Don’t be dogmatic. If you’re presenting facts, things are the way they are. If you’re presenting opinions, however, you have to accept the fact that not everyone will agree. When you take the approach “this is the way I think and that’s the only right way to think,” you’re killing the debate and the audience can’t say anything. They will just stop listening to you.

Introduction to Communication Skills - The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Our Communication Skills eBooks

Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be a more effective communicator.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

When you want people to listen to you, you have to be authentic, honest, and self-confident. You can make yourself out to be authentic and honest, and self-confidence can be practiced. Remember the mirror?

About the Author

Michael Gilmore is a blogger and a professional resume writer at Resumes Planet. He loves writing about business, marketing, productivity and personal growth. Michael is also a passionate career advisor and facilitator.