Scenario: You're saying something during a meeting and you notice that nobody is really listening. You're getting a polite nod or two, but everyone has pretty much tuned you out. What gives? Chances are it's one or more of the following: 

1. You failed to capture their attention.

The average attention span of an adult in the United States is now 8.25 seconds. That's less than the average attention span of a goldfish. If you don't capture attention by saying something interesting and relevant within nine seconds, you've lost your audience.

2. You're dumping data on them.

We do not live in an "information economy."  We live in an information-polluted economy.  Unless immediately relevant to the task at hand, data is toxic waste that causes people to metaphorically plug their ears. Keep it short; keep it simple.

3. You're talking about yourself.

While it's normal to want to talk about yourself (or your company, group, product, or service), people are only interested in your "stuff" insofar as has an immediate effect on their lives and careers. Rather than talk about yourself, frame everything from your audience's perspective.

4. You've picked the wrong time.

People tend to shut down when their blood sugar drops, which happens immediately before a coffee break or a meal, and just about an hour after a coffee break or a meal. If you want people to listen, the optimal time to speak up is right after they break out the box of donuts.

5. You've picked the wrong seat.

As I explained in a previous column, where you sit in the meeting room pre-defines your importance in the minds of the attendees. If you're sitting in a low-status seat, people will tend to blow off anything you say. If you're sitting in a high-status seat, they tend to listen.  

6. You're not speaking clearly.

Three things here:

  1. Speak up! If they literally can't hear you, they figuratively won't hear you.
  2. Chill out! If you yell, people hear your emotion and ignore your content.
  3. Slow down! If you're a motor mouth, all some people hear is "yada, yada, yada."

 7. You're a woman in a room full of men.

No, it's not your imagination; men don't listen as carefully to women as they do to men. According to Discover magazine, men are genetically predisposed to ignore the content of what a woman is saying. While men should obviously correct that tendency, the fact that the tendency exists means that women, in particular and unfairly, can't afford to make the previous six mistakes.