The Approachable Leader’s Handbook of Being Heard, Vol. 1

For those of you human beings out there (and I think you know who you are) here’s a quick list of assumptions.

You want to be:

Valued. Needed. Wanted.
Affirmed. Appreciated. Accepted.
Respected. Recognized. Remembered.
Taken seriously. Given a chance. Part of something that matters.

IN SHORT: You want to be heard.

Because if you’re not – if people can’t hear you – they can’t follow you.

And if they can’t follow you, you lose.

Today we’re going to explore a selection of practices to help you be heard by the people who matter most: Employees, staff, customers, kids, volunteers – whomever you serve.

CAUTION: If you’re hoping to read a bunch of vague platitudes like “just hear people first” or “have integrity” – look elsewhere. This list contains only practical, actionable and specific ideas to help you be heard.

And whether you’re a leader, writer, manager, parent, director, marketer, or fourth grade teacher, you’ll be able to plug these practices into your daily life today:

1. Be a living statement. If the message you’re preaching is the dominant reality of your life, you’ll be heard. If your onstage performance is the mirror image of your backstage reality, you’ll be heard. And if your life enshrines what your lips proclaim, you’ll be heard.

The secret is to be the message you seek to deliver. Otherwise, if what you say doesn’t contain a big enough piece of who you are, nobody will hear you. Your challenge is to navigate from your true center. To practice living your mission in minor moments. My suggestion is to begin by running a consistency audit.

Remember: Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness. People would much rather see a sermon than hear one. Instead of flapping your gums, try shuffling your feet. Is your vision framed in your office or lived in your life?

2. Platform amplifies message. You can no longer afford to be invisible. Winking in the dark is not a smart leadership strategy. Your platform – by which I mean your entire visibility engine – is a pre-requisite for being heard. It no longer a novelty, it’s a necessity. And it’s the price of admission for being listened to, much less heard.

Make sure you’re constantly and creatively building it by focusing your daily activities on IMPE’s, or “Intentional Moments of Platform Expansion.” From internal communications to blogs to public presentations to social media outlets, anonymity is your greatest barrier to success. How are you making people aware of you?

3. Don’t be afraid to be bloody. In The Bloody Writer’s Guide to Crafting More Honest Material, I defined writing as, “Slicing open a vein and bleeding your truth all over the page.”

Pure, raw expression. Unhindered and unedited. That’s what gets heard. To do so, try these ideas: First, ask penetrating questions. Questions stop people. What’s more, they challenge, inspire, penetrate, disturb and confront the reader and toggle their brains.

Next, commit to self-disclosure. Hold (almost) nothing back. Take full swings. Being vulnerable is a healthy, beautiful and approachable thing. Just as long as you’re doing so to make a point – not just to get a laugh, or to use your audience as group therapy.

Third, assess the risk. Your willingness to be unpopular, make wave, rock boats – and, in general, piss people off – makes your writing bloodier. Ask one question of everything you compose or publish: “What do I risk in writing this material?”

Remember: Ink gets ignored; blood gets heard. What is your pen soaked with?

4. Speak straight to the heart of human experience. Speak the unspokens. Stir up which has long been buried. You’ll find that when you take people’s hiding places away from them and plunge into the depths they need to explore, it’s impossible for them (not) to hear you.

Leonard Cohen is a master of this. Through his poems, books, songs and interviews, he’s been heard for over forty years. In his biography, Everybody Knows, Cohen suggested the following: “Scrap your song from out of your heart. Sit in the very bonfire of distress and sit until it’s burned away and you’re ashes and you’re gone.”

It’s weird: The more personal your material is, the more your audience relates to it; and the more they relate to it, the more they hear it. Are you hitting individual nerves by highlighting universal truths?

5. Timing is everything. Never underestimate the power of being the last to speak. If possible, wait to speak until the perfect psychological moment when the words will have the maximum impact on the audience. Bide your time and veil your light until the perfect instance for expression comes along.

Then, just when everyone thought the meeting was over, drop an H-bomb from left field. Don’t be shy about making your positions known. Conclusions weren’t meant to be kept quiet. And don’t back down from who you are, either. Create a case for your agenda. The right message at the right place at the right time – in the right proportion – can completely destroy the static equilibrium.

But you have to be willing to grab the world by the lapel and aggressively whisper into its ear. And you can’t just make protests – you have to offer propositions. Consider a 3:1 ratio: With every complaint you file, offer three potential solutions. This leaves a larger footprint in people’s mind and achieves a greater probability of being heard. Are you delightfully disturbing or painfully annoying?

6. Consider the roadblocks. In The Psychology of Attention, I learned to beware of introducing new objects of attention into what you’re doing. Human attention span is just too fickle. If you want to arrest the interest of the world, don’t underestimate the cost of complexity.

Make your message simple, focused, clear, meaningful, concrete and immediate. Let your words breathe. Otherwise the point you’re trying to make will drown in the noise.

Why? Because familiar structures and predictable rhythms lead to mental laziness. And you the human brain filters out unchanging backgrounds. Which means there’s no need to pay attention if nothing moves.

Sadly, most communicators mess this up. Their audience tunes them out because their communication isn’t oxygen rich. Your challenge is to let the pearl sink. To arouse riveting curiosity as your words profoundly penetrate people. Otherwise you’ll step on the silence, smother the sparks of your message and cripple the impact of your point. How are you scattering the clouds obscuring your message’s light?

7. Build your bedrock of conviction. If you want your voice to reverberate for years to come, it has to come from a place of passion. My suggestion is to capture the “how” of the one thing you do better than anyone else on the planet.

For example, I publish time-lapse videos of my content generation, content management and content deployment processes. That way, instead of wondering what the hell I do all day, now my audience can experience the reality of my vocation. I’ve memorialized my unquestionable commitment for the entire world to see and, more importantly, hear.

Lesson learned: If you’re not about something, your vanilla voice will join the ranks of mediocre masses and fade into a sea of sameness. Are you a public spokesperson for your value you execute and the value(s) you embody?

REMEMBER: If they can’t hear you, they can’t follow you.

And if they can’t follow you, you lose.

What’s your strategy for being heard?

For the list called, “22 Unexpected Ways to Help People,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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