Why won't prospective clients hire you? (Hint: You're talking too much.)

Some people love to talk. They talk so much that other people can’t get away from them fast enough — and sometimes they just can’t get away. Oftentimes these talkers are drawn to sales, where they believe their job is to talk and espouse all their knowledge on their captive audience.

Even when your audience knows nothing about your product or service, talking for extended periods of time is just not a good idea. That’s a lecture, not a conversation. And unless you’re in a lecture hall, nobody wants to listen that long, especially CEOs, CFOs, and HR managers. They want to be active participants.

Lecturing is a terrible way to start off a relationship, especially in a sales environment. You’re there to engage with people about what’s happening in their worlds and see if your product or service would be a good fit for them. And you can’t come to that conclusion if all you do is talk at the buyer.

I read an article about talking vs. attention spans in Harvard Business Review several years ago, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about the ideas I learned. It resonated with me so strongly because I spend a lot of time talking with people, and too often I find myself watching the minutes tick by on the clock as people talk and talk and take a breath and talk some more. Never a pause long enough for anyone to ask a question or give someone else a few minutes to share their thoughts.

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Business people talking in office

And, honestly, it’s exhausting as a listener.

If you find yourself getting first meetings, but they go cold after that, this may be a legitimate reason for the radio silence. Test yourself and see how much you tend to talk in a single session. If you’re exceeding recommended listening limits, you can learn new habits.

According to the author of the article, Mark Goulston, “Some people are long-winded…because they’re trying to impress their conversational counterpart with how smart they are, often because they don’t actually feel that way underneath.”

And some people who talk too much “may not have a sense of the passage of time,” in which case it’s a matter of learning just how long you’re actually talking.

To learn that sense of timing, practice the Traffic Light Rule:

“In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is green: your listener is liking you, as long as your statement is relevant to the conversation and hopefully in service of the other person.” After that, you are perceived as talking too long and your audiences’ attention is beginning to wane.

Next, the light turns yellow for about 20 seconds, which is where the risk increases that the other person is losing interest or thinks you’re long-winded.

At about 40 seconds, the light turns red and people are done. They’re tuning you out. They’re irritated. They looking for ways to kick you out of their office.

Think this is too tight of a timeframe and not realistic? Start paying attention to others talking to you and see how long your own attention span is. Pull out your phone, start the timer, and start a conversation with friend, co-worker, or family member. Test it out. See where you tend to fall on the talking side of the conversation. And see where your attention tends to wane and where the frustration kicks in as a listener.

If you’re running right on through the red light, yet just getting started, it’s time to get a new habit. I’ve watched the clock tick past 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 25 minutes listening to people wax on about things they feel are critical for their audience to know.

But if you truly want your listeners to hear it, then you better stop talking and allow your listeners to participate as well. And when you’re ready to share that key information, be sure you get it out in the first 20 seconds when it’s your turn to talk again.

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