What’s your point?

If you’re talking and someone (me, for example) interrupts you to ask this, it may feel jarring and rude, but it’s actually a good sign. It means someone is still paying attention and they actually want to know what you’re trying to say.

Because most people will just tune out. Studies by the Brief Lab found that nearly 75% of professionals check out of presentations within the first 60 seconds, stop reading an email after 30 seconds and stop listening to colleagues after 15 seconds – 15 seconds!! — all because they didn’t get to the point quickly enough.

And if people tune out when you’re speaking, well, there goes your chance to influence them.

If you want to have powerful influence, you don’t have the luxury of rambling, repeating yourself or thinking out loud: “Was it Tuesday morning? No, wait, it was Wednesday.” Does it matter!?

Here are two reasons why people don’t get to the point.

One, they don’t know what their point is. They don’t take time to reflect on what happens in their world and what it means to them. When they speak, they don’t ask themselves: “What is it that I want to say?” They don’t “start with the end in mind,” as Stephen Covey advises. Instead, they over-explain and expect others to sift through the extraneous detail to figure out what’s important.

Sometimes, after a client has rambled on for 10 minutes, I’ll say, “Okay, explain the same situation again in less than a minute” and, now that they’ve gotten all their thoughts out of their head, they’re able to get to the point more succinctly. Most people won’t give you that second chance though. (Remember, 15 seconds.)

Two, they’re too self-oriented. I don’t mean in a narcissistic way: we’re all focused on ourselves, that’s normal. But a conversation is not just about you and what others think of you. It’s about connecting. So to influence others — to get them to pay attention, do what you want them to, make a decision — you need to 1) focus on communicating facts, not your emotional experience; and 2) curate what you say through the filter of “How can I make this relevant to this person?”

In other words, you adopt more of an ‘other-orientation’ and ask: “What does this person care about? What’s important to them?”

When a surgeon speaks with you about your upcoming operation, she doesn’t tell you about this new scalpel she’s going to use and that she’s going to start with a paramedic incision. She doesn’t mention that she’s concerned about potential complications, especially after what happened to her last week (“just what I need, another malpractice suit”). No, she tells you what the recovery process will look like, how noticeable the scar will be, when you’ll be able to work out again — you know, what you care about.

When people sense that you care about what they care about, that’s when you’ll keep their attention.