Why good speakers need to be good listeners

Your success as a speaker depends in large measure on your skills as a listener.

‘What? I’m the speaker. I’m talking to the audience. They’re listening to me. What am I supposed to be listening to?’

Oh, there’s so much you should be listening to and listening for. Let’s run through some of the reasons:

Listen to your own voice

Way before you get up on stage you should have been listening to your own voice. In rehearsals you need to listen closely and critically to the words and phrases you use. Are they everyday words you use in conversation with people you care about?

Are the phrases understandable at first hearing; short, simple, active sentences that deliver your thoughts in digestible bite-sized chunks.

(Of course, if you’ve done the Presentations Masterclass course or read any of our books you will know all about creating scripts by speaking the words before your write them down).

If you ever get the nagging feeling that you sound as though you are reading an essay out loud, you must start over and strive for a more conversational approach.

Listen for logic

You’re the expert. By the time you get up in front of an audience you’ve probably spent hours writing, re-writing and rehearsing. You know how the bits fit together.

But your audience is probably hearing your information for the first time. It’s all new. They don’t know how the pieces fit. They’re being bombarded with 120 – 140 words per minute. They need help to follow your arguments.

So when you rehearse, think like a first-time listener. Is your proposed structure easy to follow and logical. If in doubt, ask someone else to listen and give you feedback.

Listen for engagement

OK, this is a bit of a stretch. But listen, and look, and sense the energy in the room. Use all of your senses to tune in to the audience and ‘read’ their reaction to your words. Slow your delivery, build in some nice pauses, and with practice you will pick up the mood of the room. Be prepared to adjust your delivery or your content accordingly.

Listen for comprehension

For this you might need to ask a question, maybe something as simple as ‘Is this making sense to you?’ In our coaching we call these pulse checks. Create ways in which you can elicit reaction from the audience.

It’s easy to do in a workshop or boardroom situation. Simply ask ‘Tell me what you understood from what I just said?’ or ‘If you were to tell Georgia in marketing what I just said, what would you say?’

Far better to pick up on a lack of comprehension early and fix it, than soldier on to the end and have a confused audience shaking their heads as they leave the room.

If you’re speaking to a bigger audience to may be harder. In that case you really do need to be certain that you are using simple words and simple sentences, with one thought per sentence, and that you are using metaphors or analogies or stories to bring your facts to life. And you should have checked all that in the ‘listening at preparation and rehearsal’ stages.

Listen to the questions

If you do a Q and A session, you don’t want to be a hostage to negative questions. Sometimes, faced with a skeptical audience, we seem to hear only the most negative elements of the questions.

Instead, listen really closely and in every question you will hear a word or phrase you can use to bridge back to your main point. You won’t (and shouldn’t) avoid the question, but you will be able to turn it back to your positive message.

Good speakers really do need to be good listeners.