Hearing vs. Listening: Importance of Listening Skills for Speakers

Hearing vs. Listening: Importance of Listening Skills for Speakers
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  • 0:01 Hearing vs. Listening
  • 0:58 Steps in the Listening Process
  • 2:07 Public Speakers Need…
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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.

While often used synonymously, hearing and listening are really two very different things. Hearing is involuntary and uncontrollable. Listening, however, requires an attention.

Hearing vs. Listening

Let's face it; every public speaker had a moment where they asked themselves, 'Did the audience hear me?' Well, the real question is, 'Are they listening?' and that is definitely a matter of choice.

You see, hearing is an involuntary process that starts with noise, vibrations, the movement of fluid in the ears and sound sent to the brain. Simple!

Where it gets a little complicated is when the noise actually arrives to its final destination: the brain! This is where listening happens.

Listening is a voluntary act where we try to make sense out of the noise we hear. That could be your partner telling you to rake the leaves or your boss droning on about the latest plummeting sales figures. But the worst is when a speaker is on stage vying for your attention. In any event, hearing and listening are very different because listening requires conscious action.

Steps in the Listening Process

I know what you're thinking. It all seems to happen so fast. The speaker is on stage rambling on about this or that. Well, you are correct. In fact, sound travels at 770 MPH. That's about 33% quicker than a Boeing 747. Now, that's fast!

How does this really happen? Here's the process:

  • Hearing - sound enters the eardrums and travels to the brain
  • Attending - our brain receives the sound and decides what to pay attention to
  • Understanding - take what is meaningful and apply it to the social context
  • Remembering - storing the information for use at a later time

For the most part, we have the process down pat! Well, except for the remembering part. When viewers were asked how much of the evening news they recalled hearing, it was only 17.2% and when given a few clues, it only rose to about 25%.

Now that we know how listening occurs, just how important is it for a public speaker to listen? After all, isn't he the one doing all the talking? Well, think again, it is very important and here is why.

Public Speakers Need to Be Good Listeners, Too

When a public speaker sets out to create the speech of a lifetime, he first must do some snooping. The best way a public speaker can glean information about his potential audience is by asking open-ended questions. These questions require an extended answer rather than a simple yes or no.

So, when the public speaker is sitting down with his client, he should ask questions about the audience, their education level, interests and other important details. It will help him to create a more relevant presentation.

Next, the speaker should get to the gig early. It will give him time to socialize with the audience. As he peruses the crowd, he may stumble upon something interesting.

Perhaps he overhears that the audience members just patented a translator that converts a cat's meows into several languages. Well, this may be something he would want to incorporate into his speech.

Listen to what's going on right before you begin your speech. During the introductions, you may learn that one of the members adopted a cat or was elected to a new position. This may be a perfect opportunity for the speaker to congratulate the party. It sends a caring message.

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