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Audience Centered Listening


How to Help Your Audience Listen


Related Reading:

Speech Organization


Related Reading:

Why Who?


Related Reading:

Visual Aids

          As speakers, we may not realize the majority of our audiences are not good listeners. Not through any fault of their own, most have not had the opportunity to be trained in the skill of listening. As you speak, you may need to help the audience listen better. This can be done through several methods, including verbally, nonverbally, and vocally. 

          Through movement. Movement can help your audience listen. Written movement through using the literary techniques of writers such as rhythm, similes, metaphors, alliteration, dynamics, etc., within a speech keeps the audience focused and drawn into the message. By utilizing phrasing, expanding your vocabulary, and incorporating pauses for emphasis and understanding, you can intensify the meaning listeners receive from a speech. Physical movement during a speech can help draw people into your presentation and keep them focused. There is a fine line between good physical movement and excessive physical movement that might be distracting. As a speaker, use the space around you to keep the audience focused on you and your message. Move with purpose and planning. When you are speaking, increase your physical size, stand up straight, project power and confidence. Confidence gives your speech more credibility, which the listener will appreciate. 

          An organized message will also help your audience listen better. If you organize your message based on your audience analysis and consider the various frames of reference of your audience, it will be easier for them to listen. When you target your specific audience, your information and ideas are specifically aimed at them, giving them more reasons to focus on and listen to the message. If a listener has to work hard to comprehend the meaning and its connection to them, they may not want to expend the energy and therefore stop listening.

           Using the elements of a good speechwriting will help listeners stay focused and involved. Having a good introduction to draw them in will entice them to listen more attentively. In your introduction, be sure to include a reason for them to listen. Give them a preview or a map of the points so they can follow along more easily. Organizing the body in a pattern that best suits your goal and approach will also help them listen better. Using obvious transitional statements, such as internal summaries and internal previews, and using signposts will give the listener a sense of place and allow them to comprehend more easily. Covering smaller amounts of material in-depth will prevent information overload. Too much broad and varied information is harder to listen to than smaller, deeper levels. Going in-depth helps listeners understand your message better. Give them examples that are pertinent to them, so they have a reference point for your information. Make sure to cite your sources aloud during your presentation. This verbally provides and verifies the support and helps listeners tune in to the information you are providing. Having a solid, powerful conclusion that completes the speech by not leaving loose ends will keep the listener focused and attentive. A conclusion needs a summary of your main ideas and final impactful ending statement to complete the speech for the listeners.

          Repeating and reinforcing your main thesis or intent throughout the speech aids the listener in comprehending your meaning. It keeps them continually tuned in to your purpose for the message.

          Use verbally vivid imagery when speaking. Bring your message to life for the listeners. When listeners hear words that create images and ideas in their mind, they are more likely to stay focused. Make sure you don’t talk above your listeners’ heads; they will quit listening. Use language that is clear, understandable, and familiar to them.

          Use novel ideas and thoughts, not just the “same ole same old.” New ideas generate new ways for listeners to consider. Listeners appreciate intensity and energy. Your voice, mannerisms, and the words you use can draw us back in to listen if we momentarily drift off to other thoughts. 

          Again, target your particular audience by addressing their needs, interests, desires, and wants. This will keep them tuned in to your message—you are speaking with them, not over or at them. Have a moment of personal connection with each audience member, if possible. It will show that you are personalizing your message specifically to them and give them a vested interest in listening to your message. 

          Practice your delivery. Practice your vocal, verbal, and nonverbal delivery. By practicing, you are learning what you can do better, becoming smoother, and building your own confidence. Your confidence will make the audience want to listen. 

          Make your appearance and visual aids colorful—but not distracting. Well-placed pops of color keep audiences attentive to you and your message. And don’t forget the subtlety of nonverbal messages of color to keep your audience listening and focused. 

Guidelines for Listening As An Audience Member

          Analyzing a variety of elements for speaking as you watch and listen to a speech will not only help you be a stronger speaker/listener but will also help you become a more knowledgeable consumer of information. Listen for these elements during speeches:

  • Introduction

    • Strong attention-getter

    •  Credibility statement

    • Audience relevance

    •  Thesis/central idea statement

    •  Preview

  • Transitions

    • Internal previews, internal summaries, movement from idea to idea

    • Signposts—numbers, letters, etc.

  • Evidence

    • Examples

    • Stories 

    • Compare/Contrast

    • Data/statistics

    • Source citation—validation, credibility of sources cited

  • Language Use

    • Vivid

    • Imagery/Connotative

    • Descriptive

    • Rhythm/language and writing

    • Appropriate

    •  Understandable

    • Creative

  • Conclusion

    • Signal

    • Summary of concepts, points, ideas

    • Strong clincher/ending

  • Audience Engagement

    • Personable

    • Passionate

    • Rhythm

    • Energy

    • Believable 


          One of the most comforting things to know is good listening habits are skills that can be practiced. And the more you practice, the better you will become at it. The better listener you are, the better speaker you will become. Use every opportunity to listen, practicing your newfound skill with each opportunity. Remember, it takes time, effort, practice, and desire, but you will see the benefits in your life when you become a stronger and better listener. 

Review Questions

1) Why is an organized message important when trying to get an audience to listen?

2) How can practicing your speech improve your audience's listening skills?

3) What are some items you should listen for when you are an audience member?

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