“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel
We’ve all been there, or seen someone who’s been there – addressing an audience of people who generally couldn’t care less. Cast your mind back to every school assembly you’ve ever been in. So how do you communicate with people who don’t want to listen?
1. Talk about something people want to hear about.
Sounds obvious, but it’s not always, and talking about something people want to hear about isn’t the same as saying what they want to hear. You don’t have to dress things up and pander to their expectations, but addressing something that concerns people in some way is a sure way of getting their attention.
2. Care about what you’re saying.
Sometimes you can’t talk about things people are interested in, but that doesn’t mean what you’re saying isn’t relevant, or really important. People didn’t want to talk about the theory of evolution when Darwin first developed the idea, but he kept talking about it because he believed in himself. You might have to get a presentation to people who couldn’t care less, but you have to care. If you don’t care, your audience certainly won’t.
3. Connect with the audience.
People don’t care about global flooding – until the waters are coming up their gardens. Make it clear how your topic affects the audience and why it is important, not just in general terms, but to them. Try to connect with your target audience or whoever you’re trying to reach, on an emotional level. Should your topic make them feel good, or scared, or concerned? What is the wider context of your subject?
4. Engage in conversation.
One of the biggest reasons people are apathetic towards speakers or in presentations, is because they believe people are talking at them, not to them. Like in job interviews, you should treat presenting as engagement – talk and share if appropriate, or address the audience in a human way. Jargon is fine when everyone knows what it means and it’s relevant, but formal language is meant to be used to enable precision, not to be hidden behind. Think of ways you can engage the audience- ask them questions, or refer to them or something pertinently relevant to them.
You could be talking about the most important subject in the world – there could be an asteroid on its way to earth and you might be the only one with the answer, but if you start waffling, and mumbling, and going off on tangents, people aren’t going to listen to you. Practice your delivery and think about what you’re going to say, and streamline it too; you don’t have to give bullet points, but people appreciate concise analysis. Keep on topic, and don’t try to become some sort of speaking machine, don’t burden yourself with the worry of slipping up or saying the wrong thing; you can always correct yourself and take your time.
As always, remember that these points are improved with practice, and you can practice by yourself or with other people.