Effective Listening: Definition & Obstacles

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  • 0:01 What Is Effective Listening?
  • 1:16 Effective Listening…
  • 2:44 Barriers to Communication
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

It seems counterintuitive that a public speaker should focus on effective listening. However, a good public speaker must know a few things about his audience in order to effectively communicate his message.

What Is Effective Listening?

For people who have not done public speaking, it may seem like speaking before a crowd is different than speaking, say, to a friend over a mocha latte. But really, it is quite the same. If you think of an audience as a group of individuals gathered in one place, then you will understand why it is so important to listen to each member as an individual.

Let's break this down. When you are chatting with a friend, your focus is on the conversation. You nod at the right times and respond with feedback in appropriate measure.

All of these behaviors tell your friend that you are interested in what she has to say. That is effective listening, and it really means hearing the message being sent, making meaning of it and responding in a way that lets the sender know you truly understand.

When you are speaking before a crowd, it is pretty much the same way. Things like eye contact with the individual members and non-verbal communication techniques tell the audience that you are engaged.

So now, let's reverse this. Since you are the public speaker, you are not really conversing as much as you are talking. But you still must listen in the same way and for the same things. So, what exactly are you listening for?

Effective Listening When Public Speaking

For one thing, the speaker should understand the audience's mood. Just like individuals, groups of people gathered together have a mood. If the audience roars with excitement as the speaker approaches the podium, it is obvious they are excited about the event. If there is silence, well, not so much!

And this mood can change as the speech evolves. The vivacious enthusiasm demonstrated by the audience at the beginning of the speech can change drastically if the speaker says something out of line. Don't worry, here are a few things you can do to be sure you not only reach your audience but also keep them interested.

First, observe them. You can do this by watching their body language. Things like making eye contact, nodding in agreement and even clapping are clues that the group is into what you are saying.

You can also pause between points. If you take a few moments to assess their interest level between thoughts, you will know whether they are still roped in. A muddled audience may look around at each other or just stare into space. You can quickly change tunes and clarify the confusion.

Another way to effectively listen is to actively involve the audience in your speech. You can do this by asking questions and exchanging thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes, there is just no getting through to an audience because there are barriers to the communication process. A public speaker does not have to needlessly fret over this. There are ways to overcome them.

Barriers to Communication

A public speaker may get into trouble by not getting to know his audience. Know your audience by asking questions. So, the way around this is to interview a sample of the audience to get a good idea of their expectations.

This way the content can be molded specifically to their interests. By effectively listening to the wants and needs of several audience members, the speaker will be able to hone in on what's important to them. A speaker should never make assumptions based on what he thinks he knows about the group.

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