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They’re words to live by, for everyone who speaks for a living. Which is to say, for all of us.

They come from actor Daniel Kaluuya. You know him from Get Out and  Black Panther. And they explain a lot about Kaluuya’s appeal—and his success.

“I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anyone’s attention. I have to offer, or channel, or shape something that’s going to make you want to give it to me.”

The trap people fall into is feeling entitled to attention. Especially people who have a position or a title or a resume that seems impressive.

How many town halls, conferences, and even regular weekly department meetings fall flat because the person at the front of the room or the head of the table feels entitled to attention?

Sure, maybe it’s true. Those people listening have to be sitting there. Somebody’s keeping track, making notes, taking attendance. Doesn’t matter.

Attendance can be mandated. Attention can’t.

That means we have to earn their attention. No matter who we are, what title we hold, or what accomplishments brought us to this moment.

We’re not entitled to anyone’s attention.

How, then, do we make them want to give us their attention? Simple, right? We create a powerful message, and we deliver it masterfully.

And we do it every time. Even when the occasion seems routine, or the stakes aren’t that high, or the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Too often, we skip the kind of preparation that would put us in the position to earn attention.

And, in my experience, the higher they are on the org chart, the more likely a person is to push back about preparing.

Maybe they don’t think they need feedback, much less coaching. They resist rehearsing for their presentations. They brush off suggestions that would give their words more impact.

They’re busy, of course. They’ve been doing this for a long time, after all. It’s not, as they say, their first rodeo. And they fall back on their position or title or impressive resume.

That’s a mistake. No matter who they are, they’re not entitled to anyone’s attention.

If you’re with me so far, and you’re ready to earn attention, the natural question is: Okay, Catherine, exactly how do we do that?

Good news.

I have a few suggestions for you.

  • First and foremost, focus relentlessly on the audience. From the moment you begin to ponder a presentation, you earn their attention by giving them yours.
  • Develop your material so it will hit the mark with your listeners. What do they need to know? What’s important to them? What have they been curious about?

Eliminate anything extraneous. Attention is a scarce resource—you can’t afford to squander it on a bunch of blah-blah they don’t need to hear.

  • Frame your message in language that resonates with them. Beware of jargon, industry-speak, and term-paper talk.

This doesn’t mean talking down to your listeners. It does mean being conversational. Use spoken English—the words you’d use if you were talking to a friend over coffee.

And avoid written English—the more formal, structured way you might write a proposal or a White Paper.

  • Deliver your message well. That takes preparation, of course, and practice.

Many of us resist rehearsal. It takes a ridiculous amount time, it’s tedious, and we may think we’re so good we don’t really need it. That’s a mistake. And I say that as someone who loathes rehearsing.

A champion athlete wouldn’t dream of taking the field, the court, or the green without long hours of practice. It would be absurd to think you could perform at your peak without throwing or catching or teeing up over and over again.

Speaking well is as much a physical activity as football, basketball, or golf. We develop every one of the individual skills that go into it. Then we can put them together to excel in the big game.

Would an athlete, or dancer, or musician try to do all that without support from a coach, teacher, or director? Of course not. We need someone to see where we excel, where we miss the mark, and what we could do better. And to show us how to bridge the gap.

  • Be fully present when you bring it all together in the moment. Because in the end, what your audience wants most from you is you. All of you.

That means you do the work ahead of time to fully prepare yourself, and then you put it all behind you. You let go of everything that went on before this moment and everything that’s going to happen later on.

So, you’re right here, right now. With these people. In this room. (Or, for the time being, on this screen.)

Presence is a prerequisite for attention.

Thanks for offering me your attention today—don’t think for a moment that I take it for granted. And I’d love to know how this lands with you. How you might earn attention next time you have an opportunity to speak to … well, to anyone.

You can post a comment here and I’ll be sure to respond.

PS: Thanks to the New York Times for their profile of Daniel Kaluuya that included “I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anyone’s attention. I have to offer, or channel, or shape something that’s going to make you want to give it to me.”

As you can tell that paragraph hit me where I live.

PPS: If you’re thinking that you might need some help to make them want to give you their attention, you know who to call. That would be me.