At the risk of writing a blog post that sounds more like a high school English paper due in 20 minutes, permit me (a moment?) to remind us all of the definition of the word listen.

As we know, but often forget, to listen does not mean to hear. After all, we hear things without meaning to. There is no intention involved in hearing. Hearing happens all the time. Our ears are basically assaulted all day and night with a range of sounds both pleasant and abhorrent. Think of a baby’s giggle versus the drone of your alarm clock. Sounds are as close as our own shadows.

Perhaps because of this, as Julian Treasure asserted in his TED Talk, 5 Ways to Listen Better, “We are losing our listening.” And no one, it seems, is immune to the proverbial mic check, “Is this thing on?”

So, how do we choose what to actually listen to? Increasingly, it seems, we don’t. We don’t make the choice at all. And that’s where the problem lies. The failure to choose what to listen to results in messages never heard, stories never told.

Content Marketing

Consider this – a basic search of the definition of listen yields the following:

    • to give attention with the ear
    • attend closely for the purpose of hearing
    • give ear
    • wait attentively for a sound
    • concentrate on hearing something
    • take heed; pay attention

This morning, I had a conversation with a colleague who had called asking me for, 1) a favor, and 2) advice. I won’t blather on about how busy I am – we all are, but it’s a point and reality worth bearing in mind. We are all busy people. Whether professionally, personally, or both, we are all doing our best to keep up with ourselves, and those around us every single day. The 21st century has cemented demanding days as our very baseline. And it is from that baseline where I felt my patience challenged…

So, said colleague calls and begins bending my ear. I am listening. I am choosing to enjoy my coffee and watch the rain as it pounds and puddles outside the window. Nothing more. I am listening. The demands of my day are attempting to distract me elsewhere, but I have learned that a dedicated five minutes of uninterrupted time is worth more than a 20-minute attempt at listening and multi-tasking. All that attempt ever yields is hearing and a job half-done. In other words, well begun, but still ultimately…half-done.

My listening, however, is interrupted every two or three minutes by:

“Hang on, Amanda.”
Cue: coffee order

“Hang on, Amanda. I just have to answer this text.”
Cue: tapping of buttons in my ear. More tapping. A pause…followed by even more tapping.

“Hang on, Amanda.”
Cue: Traffic commentary and mention of Mass-hole drivers.

“Hang on, Amanda.”
Cue: Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap…

The question is: Why should Amanda hang on? Why is she still giving attention with her ear, attending closely for the purpose of hearing? Hearing what? Text tapping? Obscenities? A coffee order? Are these the sounds she is waiting attentively to hear? Should she concentrate on hearing this? More of the din, more of the nonsense that comes from hearing and not, in fact, listening? Why should she take heed or ever pay attention to this?

She shouldn’t. She has made the mistake of listening when the broadcast has nothing to say. There is, it turns out, no message to transmit. There is noise for the sake of it. Or perhaps there is a message – certainly a message of some sort predicated the call. But this message is obviously not important enough to translate clearly and without interruption. This is a waste of time – for the listener. It is not the listener’s job to guess at the meaning, urgency, tone, or context of a message half-communicated.

Is Anyone Listening?

Who is listening to your story? Are you in a position to devote the necessary time to tell it? After all, according to Henry Ford, “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” Don’t call time out on your own efforts. Like it or not, the clock is running. Shouldn’t you take a moment and find the time to share with the right listener what it is you want the world to know about you, your business, your brand? Don’t get drowned out by the din…distractions will sink your ship. And someone else will surely set your course.

Listening is a craft – no different than content creation or content marketing. Your story deserves to be heard. The trick is finding the right listener who will be compelled to reach your larger audience. As Seth Godin sagely observed, “If your audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.”

Make your business a no-fault zone and solicit the right broadcasters to ensure that your message isn’t just heard, but effectively received.

Mic drop.

A Story Without an Audience: What it Means to Really Listen

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