As storytellers for higher education, we get to think creatively and find inspiration from the next generation of inventors, leaders and great thinkers. Campuses are goldmines for great stories. All we have to do is listen to find out where those stories are. That’s why active listening, in particular, can be one of the most important skills a marketer can have in their expansive toolbox.
Sure, in a vacuum, higher ed marketers could have the best ideas and be at the forefront of all the digital trends, but it’s not useful unless they understand the particular stories, challenges and goals of various stakeholders. But to get there, we first need to listen.
Active Listening in Action
At Converge, our process always begins with a client discovery meeting. This gives us a chance to dive deep into the content and goals of individual programs. Actively listening during these meetings is key as we listen to learn, to understand and to become the expert of that particular school or program.
Of course, actively listening can be used anywhere, especially within higher education. Different stakeholders within higher education often lean on each other to provide crucial information about particular programs. Marketing teams lean on program heads and experts for the helpful insights. It’s important to openly listen to each key stakeholder (more on that in an upcoming blog), distill the needs, wants and goals, and then come together with a solution. The basis of all of this is actively listening and being engaged in the conversation.
So you think you’re an active listener…
Active listening takes lots of attention, empathy and practice. With a little practice and initiative, you’ll quickly learn that actively listening pays off in the long run. To start, here are a few tips:
1. Listen without judgment. Listen to learn.
Initial discussions are about two things: building rapport and listening to understand what truly matters to the stakeholder. These stakeholder relationships ideally last years and this is the first touch point. Make it matter, this is the foundation of not only the project but your relationship with the stakeholder.
2. Don’t interrupt.
Sometimes, interjecting during a conversation seems like the right thing to do if you have a question that comes up. Instead, jot down a note, let the person finish and circle back to your question later. Which leads me to the next tip…
3. Ask good questions.
When the time is right, ask questions that clarify or prompt more information. Recently, during a discovery meeting with Georgia State’s Robinson School of Business, I asked a specific question, “why someone without an accounting background would be interested in a Masters in Professional Accounting (MPA)?” The Georgia State team quickly pulled in the admissions coordinator, who understood their student population. That opened the floodgates of information and we established a new helpful resource point. If I hadn’t asked that question, we may have never been able to connect and get her in-depth information.
4. Summarize and confirm.
It’s easy to assume things through a conversation, but it’s important to verify even mundane details. Be sure to summarize what was discussed and identify particular pain points the stakeholder may be experiencing. Once the conversation has waned or finished, it’s important to highlight essential topics, discuss takeaways and establish next steps with the new information that was shared. This not only helps your understanding, but it reaffirms to the client that you listened and understood their challenges and goals.
You’re probably not an active listener, but you can be.
The truth is most of us aren’t good listeners. We often bring presumptions and preconceptions into a conversation. We have specific goals that we want to get out of conversations, which often stifles any real progress. Next time you brainstorm with your team, make it a point to listen with an open mind, ask questions that engage the other participants and always verify. Soon, you’ll start to realize your conversations will cultivate more great ideas and stories.
We’re listening… no really, we are.
Do you have any examples of how active listening started your storytelling process? We’re listening, tweet us at @ConvergeOrg.