Advertising Week: Life or death listening

‘Teach me how to listen’ Richard Mullender, a hostage negotiator with 35 years experience in the Metopolitan Police, tells the audience at the Getty Images stage. Of course the room, full of individuals whose jobs are typified by being louder than anyone else in any given space, clams up. Mullender pushes for his lesson once more, and a few hands tentatively raise.

‘Keep eye contact,’ one person offers.

‘Nope, that’s looking,’ Richard dismisses.

‘Ask questions!’ another suggests.

Richard rebuffs once more, ‘nope that’s talking. I asked how to listen’.

This exchange kicked off an enlightening, if at times quite unsettling, talk on what it means to really listen. To extract key information by simply paying attention to what’s being said.

It seems obvious, but when was the last time you took part in a conversation where you said nothing? Where you simply listened to what was being said. It's amazing how much more you can learn from someone.  

In a short exercise where we were encouraged to talk to the person next to us without them questioning or entering into the dialogue, I had divulged to a total stranger that I am an Arsenal fan, live in east London where I grew up and I work at a big media agency. I continued to ramble. As Richard explained, most people will carry on talking to fill a void of silence, and this is usually when they give up the most valuable information. 

In an industry defined by persuasion, we can learn a lot from this. If we really want to understand our audiences then we should listen to what they are saying first and foremost. As Richard summed up, ‘I can’t impose me on you, but I can impose you on you’. 

By Zac Cole, Mindshare UK, reporting live from Advertising Week