Most of us perform better in one part of the communications process, as either a Speaker or a Listener, but don’t go to the effort to make the most of our communicating abilities by improving the weaker skill. But our communication is likely to be so much better and more effective if we did. It’s not too difficult.
Speakers need to be aware of their audience
Speakers are good at sending out a message. They’re focused on what they’re saying and how they say it. What they too often miss is how it affects their audience – the listeners. Speakers who don’t think about their audience when they speak are likely to be talking mostly to themselves.
Listeners should think about what they hear
Good listening involves thinking about what the speaker is saying and integrating new information with the existing body of knowledge so it becomes relevant on a personal level. Good Listeners actively work to understand what the speaker is saying and focus their thoughts on the content of the message directed to them. Listeners who don’t listen actively will miss out on much of the speaker’s message.
Listening isn’t the same as just hearing what other people say - that’s what the ears do. It’s the brain that does the actual listening, and the more mental power you apply to what you hear, the more you’re going to understand.
You’re only going to apply this extra effort if you’re interested in what you’re hearing. That means thinking about what’s being said, word-for-word. Repeat the other person’s words in your mind and analyse what’s been said. Don’t try to think about what you’re going to say in response; that will take you away from active listening and make you partially disconnect from the conversation.
A message is more than just the words
The content of the message isn’t just what the speaker says; it’s also the thoughts and feelings the speaker is trying to communicate. It’s the sum of what the speaker’s words really mean, which can also be conveyed by their facial expressions, body language, and even their tone of voice. The ideal communicator is aware of all the subtleties involved in communication and understands that it’s not just about the words used in a conversation.
Give feedback and learn how to receive it
All human communication is a two-way process. Getting feedback from your audience is important so that you know if your message is being understood and also whether it’s being accepted or generating a hostile response. It can help to imagine yourself as your audience and ask: “How is this speaker going? Do I understand everything or do I need clarification?” Good speakers always get audience feedback and can adjust their presentation accordingly.
Improving your technique
The simplest way to improve your speaking technique is to invest in a simple webcam and record yourself giving a 60-second talk on your favourite subject. When you play it back you’ll notice so much about the way you speak and quickly get an idea about how to improve it.
By thinking about how we speak, how we use our voice, and how we sound, we can greatly improve our skills of communicating to an audience, whether it’s to one person or to a roomful. Establish a communications link with your audience and maintain it while you speak. Eye contact is essential, but you should also watch for changes in facial expression and posture to see how your message is being received, and pause from time to time to give the other person a chance to respond.
Communications are the way we relate to other people. They’re the basis of how we make friends, influence others – and do business. Start working today to become a better communicator and it will have a positive impact on every aspect of your life.