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listen to become a better speaker

When called upon to give talks or presentations, have you often felt like you’ve just engaged in mostly one-way communication – since you were the one who did most all of the talking?

A huge proportion of executives who come to me for public speaking coaching clients tell me that’s exactly what they’ve thought time and again about their speaking experiences. And many go further by describing just how uncomfortable and anxious this makes them feel.

But and as common as this sensation may be, you really never want to feel like a one-way traffic merchant when speaking. No matter how much chutzpah you possess, it’s hard to feel confident or persuasive if every audience you address just looks back at you with folded arms and/or passive expressions on their faces. That’s a horrible prospect, right?

Rather, you need your audiences to be ‘actively’ switched on and leaning in to hear what you say – thinking thoughts like: “This sounds really interesting, I want to know more, and I need to do something with this”.

And this requires every talk you give to be more of a conversation than a one-way broadcast of messages, where the only energy in a room comes from you!

Why I don’t like the word ‘presentation’ and nor should you

Before I get into how you can take a different tack, here’s why the vast majority of the millions of presentations given all around the world on any given day will fail to earn far higher audience engagement and interaction than they might:

  • Most speakers will assume that since they’re being asked to give presentations where they’ll share opinions, observations, and suggestions, what ever they share should be totally down to what they know and suggest. And, consequently:
  • Precious few will reach out to their audiences for input pre or even during when their talks – as so many will believe this might give the impression that maybe they’re not so ‘expert in’ or ‘on top of’ whatever topic is to be addressed and that ‘wouldn’t look good’. And then, as sure as eggs are eggs:
  • The vast majority of these speaker will give ‘presentations’ of their ideas while their audiences are consigned to the role, at best, of potentially grateful recipients!

Fact is, this approach is up there with the Christopher Columbus mindset of “I don’t need no stinking maps, I know what I’m doing”

What could possibly go wrong? Here’s what:

If your audience believes you’re not going to ask them to actively do much of anything pre or during your talks, you’ll set them up for a self fulfilling outcome. They’ll happy go along with the notion that they’re passengers and let you drive the bus anywhere you like, but by yourself!

And frankly that’s not good for you and nor is it good for your audiences.

Fact. Without active interaction: Your audience will be less interested in, get less meaning from, and feel far less minded to act after you’re done.

How to use listening to ace your talks

Audiences will be more likely to listen to you if it’s clear

  • You’ve done a deal of homework before you speak to learn exactly what they are thinking, experiencing, and feeling today so you know what they really need, want, and would value before you say a word (versus assume you know what’d good for them), and
  • You actively listen to your audience while you speak

OK, so the first part will make immediate sense. But the second?

How do you listen when speaking?

#1 Show you care about your audience and your topic

Make it obvious to your audience that you want to be there, you’re passionate about the topic and how what you say can be of value to your listeners, and you’ve centred your speech on them (ahead of you)

#2 Find many opportunities to actively engage your audience

In addition to never reading your speech (which will pretty much cause 99.99 % of audiences to instantly tune out, ignore, and forget what you say):

  • Make regular and good eye contact with everyone in your audience – constantly showing that you’re being attentive to them and checking in to see if what you share is interesting to them – just as you would in any conversation. Are you seeing people nodding their heads, smiling, and taking notes they plan to action?
  • Ask interesting, reflective questions on a regular basis that encourage your audience to think about how your core messages are relevant to them and might inspire them to think or act in new and valuable ways
  • Encourage questions and interaction (where the time and situation allows this and it’s useful) in ways that let your audience know that you’re 100% focused on what they’ll get from your talk

In essence, take the time to help your audience to feel invited into every talk you give. Don’t rush.

And remember, it’s always better to favour communication where you ‘do a little, but do it well’ – and do this immersively – than to give ‘let’s squeeze as much as you can into as little time we can’ talks.