This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

I’ve been traveling a lot so far this year. A Southwest Airlines flight attendant recently role-modeled something in their communication that immediately pulled my head out of my phone (in airplane mode, for the record) and got me laser-focused on them. I wrote about this very technique almost exactly five years ago. Today I’m reprising it because I believe it’s a lesson that’s even more valuable now as we strive to find ways to be heard in the face of chronic multi-tasking and short attention spans.

Southwest employees are known for taking creative license with the more mundane aspects of the job, including on-board announcements. If you’ve traveled by plane anywhere in the world, you know the pre-flight spiel that gets delivered verbatim every time. While the specific wording may vary by country, you know the basic patter:

     “Federal regulations require that carry-on items are stowed prior to closing the aircraft door …”
     “Your items may be placed in an overhead compartment, or completely under the seat in front of you …”
     “Take a moment to review the Safety Instructions card in your seat pocket …”

I was totally tuned out until this particular Southwest employee injected something totally unexpected.

No, it wasn’t foul language, though that can also have the intended effect. What they did was insert the words “blah blah blah” in and among their sentences. (This is precisely what the flight attendant from five years ago had done and I wondered to myself if it was in fact the exact same person.)

The impact for me was once again immediate and noteworthy: I started listening. And I kept listening.

When they were done, I once again noted the irony that the only words that didn’t sound to my ear like “blah blah blah” were the words “blah blah blah.”

And then I once again got to thinking about all the times clients tune out because we’re either saying the same stuff over and over or saying our stuff in an undistinctive way. Like when we talk about our company background (blah blah blah) or when we answer questions such as, “Why should we choose you?” (blah blah blah) and “What makes you different?” (blah blah blah).

There is power in saying something distinguishing—or in a distinguishing way—such that it actually rises above the din. Specifics include:

As I revisit this topic now, it occurs to me that the next time I see blank stares looking back at me during a Zoom workshop, in addition to injecting a prompt to chat/annotate/respond to a poll, I could also simply repeat the words “blah blah blah” until I’ve recaptured everyone’s attention. Bonus: We might all have a good laugh in the process.

And therein lies a fundamental win-win with the strategies above: they help clients actually hear you while offering you considerably more energizing delivery options.

It surely seems to work for the Southwest crew.

Make It Real

This week, look for an opportunity to exchange your usual “blah blah blah” for something distinctive that rises above the din.

Learn More

Read about specific ways to make your pitches more interactive in Chapter ## of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

May the “blah blah blah” be with you.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).