This Family Guy video pretty much sums up the need we all have to be heard, not necessarily because we have anything to say but just because we’re human and want to be known.
Unfortunately, that’s the best way to get ignored.
How do you get people (other than your mom) to listen? How do you earn attention?
Everyone wants to believe what they’re doing is interesting and worth talking about. They want to think they’re special and unique. But the truth is that’s not your call.
I see this attitude most often exhibited amongst writers and artists. They think that just because they’re creative, the world owes them respect and attention.
You don’t get to decide what “remarkable” is. Your audience does. [Tweet that]
And if nobody’s paying attention, you’ve got a problem.
Never worry about attention again
For years, I thought this way. As a blogger growing more frustrated by the minute that no one was listening to me, I failed to understand one essential concept:
I thought people would listen to me for my wit or humor. I thought they’d care about me, because I was interesting or a good writer or heck, I dunno, why can’t someone just love me for being me?
Here’s the truth: In a world full of noise, the way you get people to care about you is to care about them first.
No, we don’t care what you ate for breakfast or what stupid trick your cat can do — until you show interest in us. Once you’ve done that, you’ve earned our attention, and we may start to trust you.
Communication is a two-way relationship. It involves a sender and receiver and is held together by the glue of the message. Most writers don’t get this. They think of what they do as art, as something to be thrown into the ether, praying that it sticks.
But even art has an audience. Perhaps, especially so.
This doesn’t mean you have to pander to the masses or create mediocre work that contributes to the status quo. But you’d better find ways to add value. You better make it worth your audience’s while.
How I did this with my writing
When I began my blog, I knew sharing my random thoughts about inane things wasn’t enough to captivate and inspire. I knew nobody knew or cared about me (yet), and so I had to earn their attention.
So I started to think:
- What problems do I have that others might have, too? How have I solved those problems?
- What struggles have I overcome that I could share?
- What interesting stories could I tell that would help people?
At first, I didn’t connect. In fact, it took months of trying different things before I found something that stuck: the topic of writing. Somehow, I’d overlooked the fact that for nearly a decade I’d been coaching writers in their craft.
So I began to share what I knew, what I’d learned, and what I was still learning. And immediately, people responded.
Whenever I blogged about writing (versus leadership or self-improvement), I saw a measurably better reaction (in terms of the number of comments, shares, or anyway I chose to measure it). I’d found my niche.
I decided to do a few things:
- I started an email list, so that I could capture people’s attention for continued conversation.
- I began guest posting on other blogs to build my audience even more.
- I asked readers to share my articles (if they liked them) via social media.
From that point on, I continued searching for ways to help people, often asking questions and sharing thoughts along the way. The more this exchange happened, the more a community was established, and the better I got to know my readership.
This is what it means to add value: listen first, speak second.
Such an understanding didn’t come to me intuitively; I had to learn it through failure. But now I get it.
Our talents and skills are not intended only to be used for our own good. They’re meant to be shared as an offering to the world. A gift in the truest sense of the word.
Application: What you can do
If you have a message the world needs to hear — a book you want to write, a song you want to sing, or simply an idea worth spreading — the way you get others to care about it is to not just come out and share it.
First, you must engage, connect, and serve. Then people will listen. This doesn’t mean you can’t have convictions or that you need to wait for permission to speak.
It just means you appreciate the disruptive, media-driven nature of the world we all live in. And that you respect people’s time. After all, how many random strangers did you pay attention to today? (Get my drift?)
To break it down further, here’s what you can do:
- Find a conversation. Spend some time listening to what people are already saying about a particular topic. Subscribe to a few blogs, read a couple of books by industry leaders. Get informed.
- Engage with others. Leave comments on blogs. Not so people see your name, but just to help. Send emails to industry experts (my favorite way is to subscribe to their email list and reply directly to them). If you don’t know what to say, ask a thoughtful question that only takes a minute or two to reply to (Tim Ferriss is a pro at this — read his thoughts here).
- Make a contribution. If you’ve studied your niche, then you know what it’s lacking. This should be something you feel strongly about, something that really bothers you. It could be a grave injustice or mere ignorance. But if you can’t find anything wrong or something new to contribute, then you have no right speaking up.
Repeat the process until people start listening. Then you can start a blog or host an event to continue the conversation. But don’t believe that just because you build it, they will come. You need to earn people’s attention — and the way you do that is by caring first.
So that when you eventually speak, they’ll listen. Why? Because they know you’re going to add value.
(Bonus application: Don’t waste your time leaving meaningless comments on random blogs. Instead, make a meaningful personal connection, take the relationship deeper by helping someone, and then say something that matters.)
What have you done to get people to listen to you? What questions or struggles do you still have? Share in the comments.