How Being a Good Listener Can Make You a Successful Copywriter

Know your prospect. You hear this over and over – and it truly is the most important secret of powerful, successful copywriting.

You can find out about your prospect from a number of sources. Your client is one of the best. You can also tease some information out of the data cards. And you can get glimpses of your prospect from previous controls and even from the technical specs of the product.

But there is one perfect place to go to learn who your prospect is … to understand his fears … to get to know his hopes and aspirations. That place is your prospect himself.

When you have the opportunity to talk with (NOT interview, but really talk with) one of your prospects, you’ve hit upon the richest possible vein of material for crafting your sale that you could hope for. But if you want to squeeze every gram of potential from your prospect, you must listen actively to his words. That’s why learning to be a good listener is one of the most important skills you can develop in becoming a great copywriter.

You can become a better listener – whether you’re talking to a prospect, a client, or anybody else – by using these five techniques:


    Most of us are reluctant to come right out and say what we mean. So it’s important to listen for both literal and hidden meanings.

    Listen to the cadence of the other person’s speech and the words and phrases he uses to express himself. These let you peek into his real feelings. (And if you’re talking to a prospect, they can also give you exact words and phrases that you can use to hit at the emotional heart of your sale.)

    Ask yourself if his words and tone agree. He might be saying something positive, because he thinks that’s what you want to hear. But if his tone and words give you a different message, pursue it … without being pushy.

    Listen for ideas and words that the person repeats. Listen for changes in his voice that indicate he’s excited about something. And listen for pauses and changes of tone that indicate something he’s not interested in.


    Don’t plan a response while the other person is still talking. You might miss a really important point that could mean the difference between mediocre and blockbuster results. Instead, when he’s finished speaking, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Don’t be afraid of silence.


    You can improve your ability to remember by making a brief record of the other person’s main points. Efficient note-taking requires practice. Make your notes brief, easy to interpret, and easy to review.

    But do NOT let your note-taking interfere with your listening. It’s better to listen actively and ask the person to explain a point than to get lost in your note-taking and lose an important idea entirely.


    If you’re talking to the other person on the telephone, sit where you can hear without being distracted. Resist the urge to look at your computer or check email. Concentrate on concentrating.


    Practice listening and taking notes by paying attention to difficult or unfamiliar material that challenges you – for example, the longer news stories that you hear on NPR or Sunday morning news programs. (This skill will particularly come in handy if you’re talking to a prospect or client in preparation for working on copy for an industry that’s new to you.)

There’s no doubt that being a good listener will make you a better copywriter. Just remember that being a good listener is more than being there while someone else is speaking. It’s hearing – and understanding – the message that’s being sent.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: June 27, 2005

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