By Kevin Eikeberry, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute.
You’ve likely got a meeting or conference call on your schedule, and at least some employees will be calling in from a remote location. When people aren’t sitting right in front of you, how do you ensure that they are paying attention and fully understanding your message?
Well, you have to earn their attention. Otherwise, the draw of scrolling through Twitter, checking email on their phones, tackling their lengthy to-do list or cuddling with the cat napping on their lap is going to be too much and steal their focus. If you want people to actually listen to your message, follow this advice:
Put yourself in employees’ shoes
Stop focusing on what excites you about the topic or what you think is important. You have to see the situation from your employees viewpoint. Get to know their situation, their needs, their interests, and their perspectives. Then focus your words and delivery on why the information matters to employees, and ultimately how it will benefit them.
Spark their interests
Think about it. You will partly watch the TV while you do something else, until your show is on. You will listen-with-one-ear to the lunchtime conversation until it is important to you. You will earn people’s attention only when they understand what the topic means to them. Tell them upfront why they must listen. When they know what follows matters to them, they will listen more carefully.
Additionally, studies have shown that people would rather avoid loss than hope for gain. We remember negative things longer than positive ones. When people see how your message will remove pain, stress or frustration, they will be more attentive. If you can help them avoid uncomfortable or unsavory outcomes, they will be more likely to stay with you. This one is hard to remember if you are a generally positive person, or if you are motivated by the possibility of gain. Even if that is you, remember the mantra, remove pain first, then extol the positive possibilities.
Don’t rely on data
The data is important, but alone it is never enough. Human beings are emotional and so to earn employees’ attention, you must do more than craft the perfect logical argument or the most beautiful pie chart. Help people discover what is in it for them, and why they should care about the topic.
Focus on the message, not the tactic
There are plenty of tactics that might be a big enough surprise to get people to listen to you at the start. While a tactic like the right joke, a simple magic trick or banging your shoe on the table (a la Nikita Khrushchev), might be enough of a pattern interrupt for people to look up and listen, it isn’t enough to hold them the entire time. Besides, you don’t want them to remember the stunt and miss your message.
For your next meeting, start with these ideas, not by firing up PowerPoint. It will seem like it is taking you longer to to prepare at first, but it will be worth it, because you will end up with more productive meetings.