Public Speaking is Really About Listening

Author: Frank

Date: November 26, 2017

Your aim as a public speaker is to get your message across. Whether you are giving a serious presentation or addressing an audience informally, you want them to hear what you have to say. Good communication skills are needed as a speaker because communication is a two-way street.

There are two things to consider to successfully get your message across.

You need to be prepared and present your topic well. But more importantly you need to get the audience to listen to what you have to say. You might well wonder how you can have any influence over whether someone in the audience will listen to you or not. So, while you can’t actually force someone to listen to you, there are things you can do that will help.

Listening starts way before you give your talk. It starts at your preparation stage of your presentation.

Before you give your talk

You must know who and what your potential audience are. Are they business people attending a seminar? Are they on holiday and casually listening, for example on a cruise ship? Are they there to be entertained or have they come to learn from you?

Who paid for them to be there? Have they paid themselves for attending or are they there because someone else, like their company, has paid for them to be there. This is important to know as it affects their motivation for being there and so their listening decisions.

All this needs to be known if you want your audience to listen to you because all audiences need to be treated differently if they are to listen to you.

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During your talk

You must listen to your audience during your talk if you want to be impactful as a speaker. Of course you are there to talk but you can improve the attention of your audience by listening and paying attention to them during your talk.

Be aware of your audiences’ mood during the talk. Do you have them captivated? If not alter your style.

Are they fidgety? You should do something to regain their attention. Change the tone of your voice or move across the stage.

Are they asleep? Yes, this happens, and you need to be aware of it so that you can do something about it there and then.

Are they taking notes? People who take notes during your talk may appear to be listening. However many speakers ask their audience not to take notes and prefer to give handouts to them after the talk. This way they can be fully attentive and be present during the talk.

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Are they using their phones during your talk? It is so much easier to ask that phones are put away somewhere safe before you begin your talk than to mention it during your talk.

You need to pay attention to your audience during your talk so that you can adjust your talk accordingly if needed, to help them hear your message.

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Listening after your talk.

Listen after your talk is important if you are to improve as a speaker.

Mingle with your audience after you finish. Don’t just rush off. Listen to what they have to say. Many people will thank you and tell you they enjoyed the talk. Some will mean it but others will just be being polite.

If time permits, probe a little deeper. Without making it sound like you are interrogating them, ask which part they enjoyed most or what stood out for them.

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Listen to constructive criticism if you get any and don’t be defensive.

After you leave, send a thank you e mail to your audience if you have their contact information. Also send an e mail to the event organiser thanking them for inviting you and asking for their feedback. Audiences will be much more honest with the organiser about what they thought of your talk than they will to you in person.

Poor speakers, good speakers and great speakers.

Poor speakers speak without listening. Good speakers listen and speak. Great speakers listen a lot more than they speak.

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