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listening effectively
Public Speaking: The Virtual Text
chapter 4
By Jenn Q. Goddu, M.A.
Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
“You’re not listening!” An unhappy
teen shouts this at a concerned parent.
A frustrated parent yells this as a
toddler runs through a parking lot. A
teacher says it while flicking the
overheard lights on and off, trying to
get her unruly students to heed her. A
woman offers these three words as a
parting shot before hanging up on her
significant other. A man complains of
this to his spouse during a couple’s
counseling session. We can imagine all
these scenarios and more; all of them
rooted in a speaker wondering if his or
her audience is truly listening.
Public speaking requires an audience
to hear. Otherwise it’s private
speaking, and anyone overhearing you
might wonder if you’ve lost your wits.
What makes public speaking truly
effective is when the audience hears
and listens. You might think the two
are synonymous. But they aren’t, as
you will soon understand. In a classic
listening text, Adler (1983) notes,
“How utterly amazing is the general
assumption that the ability to listen well
is a natural gift for which no training is
required” (p. 5). Since listening
requires great effort, this chapter offers
the skills needed to listen effectively.
chapter objectives
After studying this module, you should be able
explain the difference
between listening and
understand the value of
identify the three attributes
of active listeners
recognize barriers to
effective listening
employ strategies to
engage listeners
provide constructive
feedback as a listener
Developing your listening skills can
have applications throughout your
educational, personal, and professional
lives. You will begin by examining the
difference between hearing and
listening. This module will also help
you understand your role as a listener,
not only in a public speaking class, but
also in the world. You’ll read about
attributes of an active listener, barriers
to listening, and strategies to listen
better. Finally, building on valuable
lessons regarding listening, this chapter
concludes with suggestions public
speakers can use to encourage
audiences to listen more attentively.
We have two ears and one
tongue so that we would
listen more and talk less.
~ Diogenes
chapter outline
ï‚· Introduction
ï‚· Hearing Versus Listening
ï‚· The Value of Listening
o Academic Benefits
o Professional Benefits
o Personal Benefits
 Three A’s of Active Listening
o Attention
o Attitude
o Adjustment
ï‚· Barriers to Effective Listening
o Anticipating
o Judging
o Reacting Emotionally
ï‚· Strategies to Enhance Listening
o Keep an Open Mind
o Identify Distractions
o Come Prepared
o Take Notes
ï‚· Providing Feedback to
o Non-verbal Feedback
o Verbal Feedback
ï‚· Encouraging Effective Listening
o Make your Listeners Care
o Cue Your Listeners
o Convince Them to Engage
ï‚· Conclusion
ï‚· Review Questions and Activities
ï‚· Glossary
ï‚· References
ï‚· Appendix A: Listening Profile
hearing versus listening
A mother takes her four-year-old to
the pediatrician reporting she’s worried
about the girl’s hearing. The doctor
runs through a battery of tests, checks
in the girl’s ears to be sure everything
looks good, and makes notes in the
child’s folder. Then, she takes the
mother by the arm. They move
together to the far end of the room,
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PDF documents prepared by Donna Painter Graphics.
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
behind the girl. The doctor whispers in
a low voice to the concerned parent:
“Everything looks fine. But, she’s been
through a lot of tests today. You might
want to take her for ice cream after this
as a reward.” The daughter jerks her
head around, a huge grin on her face,
“Oh, please, Mommy! I love ice
cream!” The doctor, speaking now at a
regular volume, reports, “As I said, I
don’t think there’s any problem with
her hearing, but she may not always be
choosing to listen.”
a noise downstairs, an age-old selfpreservation response is kicking in.
You were asleep. You weren’t
listening for the noise – unless perhaps
you are a parent of a teenager out past
curfew – but you hear it. Hearing is
unintentional, whereas listening (by
contrast) requires you to pay conscious
attention. Our bodies hear, but we need
to employ intentional effort to actually
event, attending a debate, or enduring a
salesperson touting the benefits of
various brands of a product, we engage
in critical listening. This requires us to
be attentive to key points that influence
or confirm our judgments. When we
are focused on gaining information
whether from a teacher in a classroom
setting, or a pastor at church, we are
engaging in informational listening
(Ireland, 2011).
We regularly engage in several
different types of listening. When we
are tuning our attention to a song we
like, or a poetry reading, or actors in a
play, or sitcom antics on television, we
are listening for pleasure, also known
as appreciative listening. When we
are listening to a friend or family
member, building our relationship with
another through offering support and
showing empathy for her feelings in the
situation she is discussing, we are
engaged in relational listening.
Therapists, counselors, and conflict
mediators are trained in another level
known as empathetic or therapeutic
listening. When we are at a political
Yet, despite all these variations,
Nichols (1995) called listening a “lost
art.” The ease of sitting passively
without really listening is well known
to anyone who has sat in a boring class
with a professor droning on about the
Napoleonic wars or proper pain
medication regimens for patients
allergic to painkillers. You hear the
words the professor is saying, while
you check Facebook on your phone
under the desk. Yet, when the exam
question features an analysis of
Napoleon’s downfall or a screaming
patient fatally allergic to codeine you
realize you didn’t actually listen.
Trying to recall what you heard is a
Hearing is something most everyone
does without even trying. It is a
physiological response to sound waves
moving through the air at up to 760
miles per hour. First, we receive the
sound in our ears. The wave of sound
causes our eardrums to vibrate, which
engages our brain to begin processing.
The sound is then transformed into
nerve impulses so that we can perceive
the sound in our brains. Our auditory
cortex recognizes a sound has been
heard and begins to process the sound
by matching it to previously
encountered sounds in a process known
as auditory association (Brownell,
1996). Hearing has kept our species
alive for centuries. When you are
asleep but wake in a panic having heard
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
challenge, because without your
attention and intention to remember,
the information is lost in the caverns of
your cranium.
effectively in a team meeting.
Ferrari (2012) identifies listening as
the “most critical business skill of all.”
He notes, “listening can well be the
difference between profit and loss,
between success and failure, between a
long career and a short one” (p. 2).
Listening is one of the first skills
infants gain, using it to acquire
language and learn to communicate
with their parents. Bommelje (2011)
suggests listening is the activity we do
most in life, second only to breathing.
Nevertheless, the skill is seldom taught.
personal benefits
the value of listening
Listening is a critical skill. The
strategies endorsed in this chapter can
help you to be a more attentive listener
in any situation.
academic benefits
Bommelje, Houston, and Smither
(2003) studied effective listening
among 125 college students and found
a strong link between effective
listening and school success,
supporting previous research in the
field linking listening skills to grade
point average. This finding is
unsurprising as the better you listen
while in class, the better prepared you
will be for your assignments and
exams. It is quite simple really. When
students listen, they catch the
instructions, pointers, feedback, and
hints they can use to make the
assignment better or get a better score
on the test.
Learning is a result of
listening, which in turn leads
to even better listening and
attentiveness to the other
~ Alice Miller
professional benefits
Connecting listening skills to better
leadership, Hoppe (2006) lists many
professional advantages of active
listening, indicating that it helps us:
better understand and make
connections between ideas and
information; change perspectives and
challenge assumptions; empathize and
show respect or appreciation, which
can enhance our relationships; and
build self-esteem. When people aren’t
listening, it becomes much more
difficult to get things done effectively
and trust is broken while fostering
resentments. Bell and Mejer (2011),
identifying poor listening as a “silent
killer of productivity and profit,” state
change becomes extremely difficult to
implement in a work environment
when people are not listening.
Effective listening can also help you
to make a better impression on
employers. This can begin at the
interview. You really want the job, but
you are really nervous. As a result, you
are having trouble paying attention to
what the CEO of the company is saying
in your final interview. She asks you if
you have any questions, and you ask
something you were wondering about
in the elevator on the way up to this
penthouse office. You’re unlikely to
get the job if you ask something she’s
just talked about. Even if you,
somehow, convince her to hire you,
you will make little progress at the firm
if your supervisors often have to tell
you things again, or you make
decisions that cost the company in lost
profits because you weren’t listening
If listening is done well, the
communication loop is effectively
completed between speaker and
receiver. The speaker shares a message
with the receiver, having selected a
particular method to communicate that
message. The receiver aims to interpret
the message and share understanding of
the message with the speaker.
Communication effectiveness is
determined by the level of shared
interpretation of the message reached
through listener response and feedback.
When done successfully, the loop is
complete, and both sender and receiver
feel connected. The active listener who
employs the positive attributes detailed
in this chapter is more likely to be
better liked, in turn increasing her selfesteem. She is also likely to be better
able to reduce tension in situations and
resolve conflict (Wobser, 2004). After
all, the symbols for ears, eyes,
undivided attention, and heart comprise
the Chinese character for “to listen”
(McFerran, 2009, p. G1). Truly
listening to the words of a speaker is
sure to make a positive difference in
your interactions whether they are
academic, professional, or personal.
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
and mentally summarize them
(Nichols, 1957).
the three A’s of active
Effective listening is about selfawareness. You must pay attention to
whether or not you are only hearing,
passively listening, or actively
engaging. Effective listening requires
concentration and a focused effort that
is known as active listening. Active
listening can be broken down into three
main elements.
Know how to listen, and you
will profit even from those
who talk badly.
~ Plutarch
Hoppe (2006) advises active
listening is really a state of mind
requiring us to choose to focus on the
moment, being present and attentive
while disregarding any of our anxieties
of the day. He suggests listeners
prepare themselves for active attention
by creating a listening reminder. This
might be to write “Listen” at the top of
a page in front of you in a meeting.
While reading a book, or having a
discussion with an individual, you can
go back and re-read or ask a question to
clarify a point. This is not always true
when listening. Listening is of the
moment, and we often only get to hear
the speaker’s words once. The key
then is for the listener to quickly
ascertain the speaker’s central premise
or controlling idea. Once this is done,
it becomes easier for the listener to
discern what is most important. Of
course, distinguishing the speaker’s
primary goal, his main points, and the
structure of the speech are all easier
when the listener is able to listen with
an open mind.
We know now that attention is the
fundamental difference between
hearing and listening. Paying attention
to what a speaker is saying requires
intentional effort on your part. Nichols
(1957), credited with first researching
the field of listening, observed,
“listening is hard work. It is
characterized by faster heart action,
quicker circulation of the blood, a small
rise in bodily temperature” (p. 9).
Consider that we can process
information four times faster than a
person speaks. Yet, tests of listening
comprehension show the average
person listening at only 25% efficiency.
A typical person can speak 125 wordsper-minute, yet we can process up to
three times faster, reaching as much as
500 words-per-minute. The poor
listener grows impatient, while the
effective listener uses the extra
processing time to process the
speaker’s words, distinguish key points,
Even if you are paying attention, you
could be doing so with the wrong
attitude, the second A. Telling yourself
this is all a waste of time is not going to
help you to listen effectively. You’ll be
better off determining an internal
motivation to be attentive to the person
speaking. Approaching the task of
listening with a positive attitude and an
open-mind will make the act of
listening much easier. Bad listeners
make snap judgments that justify the
decision to be inattentive. Yet, since
you’re already there, why not listen to
see what you can learn? Kaponya
(1991) warns against psychological
deaf spots which impair our ability to
perceive and understand things counter
to our convictions. It can be as little as
a word or phrase that might cause “an
emotional eruption” causing
communication efficiency to drop
rapidly (p. 194). For instance, someone
who resolutely supports military action
as the best response to a terrorist action
may be unable to listen objectively to a
speaker endorsing negotiation as a
better tool. Even if the speaker is
effectively employing logic, drawing
on credible sources, and appealing to
emotion with a heartrending tale of the
civilian casualties caused by bombings,
this listener would be unable to keep an
open mind. Failing to acknowledge
your deaf spots will leave you at a
deficit when listening.
You will always need to make up
your own mind about where you stand
– whether you agree or disagree with
the speaker – but it is critical to do so
after listening. Adler (1983) proposes
having four questions in mind while
listening: “What is the whole speech
about?” “What are the main or pivotal
ideas, conclusions, and arguments?”
“Are the speaker’s conclusions sound
or mistaken?” and “What of it?” Once
you have an overall idea of the speech,
determine the key points, and gauge
your agreement, you can decide why it
matters, how it affects you, or what you
might do as a result of what you have
heard. Yet, he notes it is “impossible”
to answer all these questions at the
same time as you are listening (p. 96).
Instead, you have to be ready and
willing to pay attention to the speaker’s
point of view and changes in direction,
patiently waiting to see where she is
leading you.
There are things I can’t force.
I must adjust. There are times
when the greatest change
needed is a change of my
~ Denis Diderot
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
To do this well, you need the final of
the three A’s: adjustment. Often when
we hear someone speak, we don’t know
in advance what he is going to be
saying. So, we need to be flexible,
willing to follow a speaker along what
seems like a verbal detour down a
rabbit hole, until we are rewarded by
the speaker reaching his final
destination while his audience marvels
at the creative means by which he
reached his important point. If the
audience members are more intent on
reacting to or anticipating what is said,
they will be poor listeners indeed.
Take time now to think about your
own listening habits by completing the
listening profile, adapted from
Brownell (1996) (see Appendix A).
The next section will consider ways to
address the challenges of listening
barriers to effective listening
We get in our own way when it
comes to effective listening. While
listening may be the communication
skill we use foremost in formal
education environments, it is taught the
least (behind, in order, writing, reading,
and speaking) (Brownell, 1996). To
better learn to listen it is first important
to acknowledge strengths and
weaknesses as listeners. We routinely
ignore the barriers to our effective
listening; yet anticipating, judging, or
reacting emotionally can all hinder our
ability to listen attentively.
Anticipating, or thinking about what
the listener is likely to say, can detract
from listening in several ways. On one
hand, the listener might find the
speaker is taking too long to make a
point and try to anticipate what the
final conclusion is going to be. While
doing this, the listener has stopped
actively listening to the speaker. A
listener who knows too much, or thinks
they do, listens poorly. The only
answer is humility, and recognizing
there is always something new to be
Anticipating what we will say in
response to the speaker is another
detractor to effective listening.
Imagine your roommate comes to
discuss your demand for quiet from
noon to 4 p.m. every day so that you
can nap in complete silence and utter
darkness. She begins by saying, “I
wonder if we could try to find a way
that you could nap with the lights on,
so that I could use our room in the
afternoon, too.” She might go on to
offer some perfectly good ideas as to
how this might be accomplished, but
you’re no longer listening because you
are too busy anticipating what you will
say in response to her complaint. Once
she’s done speaking, you are ready to
enumerate all of the things she’s done
wrong since you moved in together.
Enter the Resident Assistant to mediate
a conflict that gets out of hand quickly.
This communication would have gone
differently if you had actually listened
instead of jumping ahead to plan a
An expert is someone who
has succeeded in making
decisions and judgments
simpler through knowing
what to pay attention to and
what to ignore.
~ Edward de Bono
Jumping to conclusions about the
speaker is another barrier to effective
listening. Perhaps you’ve been in the
audience when a speaker makes a small
mistake; maybe it’s mispronouncing a
word or misstating the hometown of
your favorite athlete. An effective
listener will overlook this minor gaffe
and continue to give the speaker the
benefit of the doubt. A listener looking
for an excuse not to give their full
attention to the speaker will instead
take this momentary lapse as proof of
flaws in all the person has said and will
go on to say.
This same listener might also judge
the speaker based on superficialities.
Focusing on delivery or personal
appearance – a squeaky voice, a
ketchup stain on a white shirt,
mismatched socks, a bad haircut, or a
proclaimed love for a band that no one
of any worth could ever profess to like
– might help the ineffective listener
justify a choice to stop listening. Still,
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
this is always a choice. The effective
listener will instead accept that people
may have their own individual foibles,
but they can still be good speakers and
valuable sources of insight or
reacting emotionally
When the speaker says an emotional
trigger, it can be even more difficult to
listen effectively. A guest speaker on
campus begins with a personal story
about the loss of a parent, and instead
of listening you become caught up
grieving a family member of your own.
Or, a presenter takes a stance on drug
use, abortion, euthanasia, religion, or
even the best topping for a pizza that
you simply can’t agree with. You
begin formulating a heated response to
the speaker’s perspective, or searing
questions you might ask to show the
holes in the speaker’s argument. Yet,
you’ve allowed your emotional
response to the speaker interfere with
your ability to listen effectively. Once
emotion is involved, effective listening
return to later. For now, you should
keep on listening.
identify distractions
In any setting where you are
expected to listen, you encounter
numerous distractions. For instance,
the father sitting in the living room
watching television, might want to turn
off the television to better enable him
to listen to his son when he comes into
the room saying, “Dad, I have a
problem.” In the classroom setting,
you might be distracted sitting beside
friends who make sarcastic comments
throughout the class. In a new product
meeting with the sales team, you could
be unnerved by the constant beep of
your phone identifying another text,
email, or phone message has arrived.
Identifying the things that will interrupt
your attention, and making a conscious
choice to move to a different seat or
turn off your phone, can help position
you to listen more effectively.
Bore, n. A person who talks
when you wish him to listen.
~ Ambrose Bierce
strategies to enhance
keep an open mind
Thinking about listening might make
you feel tense in the moment. The
effective listener is instead calm with a
focused and alert mind. You are not
waiting to hear what you want to hear,
but listening to “what is said as it is
said” (Ramsland, 1992, p. 171).
Effective listeners keep an open mind.
Remember that listening to a point of
view is not the same as accepting that
point of view. Recognizing this can
help you to cultivate a more open
perspective, helping you to better adjust
as you listen actively to a speaker.
Also, it might help you to curtail your
emotions. If you do encounter a point
that incenses you, write it down to
come prepared
Another useful strategy is to come
prepared when you can. Any time you
enter a listening situation with some
advance working knowledge of the
speaker and what might be expected of
you as a listener, you will be better able
to adjust and engage more deeply in
what is being said. For instance, you
might: read the assigned readings for
class, do the lab work before the lecture
writing up the results, read a biography
of a guest speaker before you go to an
event, review the agenda from the
previous staff meeting, or consult with
a colleague about a client before going
on-site to make a sale.
take notes
Taking notes can also advance your
ability to be actively engaged in the
speaker’s words. You need not write
down everything the speaker is saying.
First, this is quite likely to be
impossible. Second, once you are
caught up in recording a speaker’s
every word, you are no longer listening.
Use a tape recorder instead – having
asked the speaker’s permission first – if
you feel you really must capture every
word the speaker utters. You want to
focus your efforts on really listening
with an active mind. Learning to focus
your attention on main points, key
concepts, and gaining the overall gist of
the speaker’s talk is another skill to
develop. You might endeavor to do
this by jotting down a few notes or
even drawing visuals that help you to
recall the main ideas. The manner in
which you take the notes is up to you;
what is important is the fact that you
are listening and working to process
what is being said. Writing down
questions that come to mind and asking
questions of the speaker when it is
possible, are two more ways to
guarantee effective listening as you
have found an internal motivation to
listen attentively.
Education is the ability to
listen to almost anything
without losing your temper or
your self-confidence.
~ Robert Frost
providing feedback to
There are many ways in which a
listener can offer feedback to a speaker,
sometimes even wordlessly. Keeping
an openmind is something you do
internally, but you can also demonstrate
openness to a speaker through your
nonverbal communication.
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
nonverbal feeback
Boothman (2008) recommends
listening with your whole body, not just
your ears. Consider how confident you
would feel speaking to a room full of
people with their eyes closed, arms and
legs crossed, and bodies bent in
slouches. These listeners are
presenting nonverbal cues that they are
uninterested and unimpressed.
Meanwhile, a listener sitting up
straight, facing you with an intent look
on his face is more likely to offer
reassurance that your words are being
Eye contact is another nonverbal cue
to the speaker that you are paying
attention. You don’t want to be bugeyed and unblinking; the speaker might
assume there is a tiger behind her and
begin to panic as you seem to be doing.
However, attentive eye contact can
indicate you are listening, and help you
to stay focused too. There are some
cultures where maintaining eye contact
would cause discomfort, so keep that in
mind. Also, you may be someone who
listens better with eyes closed to
visualize what is being said. This can
be difficult for a speaker to recognize,
so if this is you consider incorporating
one of the following nonverbals while
you listen with eyes closed.
Nodding your head affirmatively,
making back-channel responses such as
“Yes,” “Umhum,” or “OK” can help
the speaker gauge your interest. Even
the speed of your head nod can signal
your level of patience or understanding
(Pease and Pease, 2006). Leaning in as
a listener is far more encouraging than
slumping in your seat. Miller (1994)
suggests the “listener’s lean”
demonstrates “ultimate interest. This
joyous feedback is reflexive. It
physically endorses our communiqué”
(p. 184). Nevertheless, sending too
many nonverbal responses to the
speaker can go wrong too. After all, a
conference room full of people shifting
in their seats and nodding their heads
may translate as a restless audience that
the speaker needs to recapture.
as a listener. For one, you have to
listen in order to be able to ask a
question. Your goal should be to ask
open-ended questions (“What do you
think about….?” rather than “We
should do …., right?”). You can use
questions to confirm your
understanding of the speaker’s
message. If you’re not entirely sure of
a significant point, you might ask a
clarifying question. These are
questions such as “What did you
mean?” “Can you be more specific?” or
“What is a concrete example of your
point?” These can help your
comprehension, while also offering the
speaker feedback. When asking
questions, approach the speaker in a
positive, non-threatening way. A good
listener doesn’t seek to put the speaker
on the defensive. You want to
demonstrate your objectivity and
willingness to listen to the speaker’s
Finally, paraphrasing what has been
said in your interactions with the
speaker can be another useful tool for a
good listener. Imagine the difference
if, before you respond to an upset
colleague, you take a moment to say, “I
understand you are disappointed we
didn’t consult you before moving
forward with the product release…”
before you say, “we didn’t have time to
get everyone’s input.” Reflecting back
the speaker’s point of view before you
respond allows the speaker to know
you were listening ands helps foster
trust that everyone’s voice is being
The only way to entertain
some folks is to listen to
~ Kin Hubbard
verbal feedback
While speakers sometimes want all
questions held until the end of a
presentation, asking questions when the
opportunity presents itself can help you
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
encouraging effective
William Henry Harrison was the
ninth President of the United States.
He’s also recognized for giving the
worst State of the Union address – ever.
His two-hour speech delivered in a
snowstorm in 1841 proves that a long
speech can kill (and not in the
colloquial “it was so good” sense).
Perhaps it was karma, but after the
President gave his meandering speech
discussing ancient Roman history more
than campaign issues, he died from a
cold caught while blathering on
standing outside without a hat or coat
(“William Henry Harrison,” 1989).
Now, when asked what you know
about Abraham Lincoln, you’re likely
to have more answers to offer. Let’s
focus on his Gettysburg Address. The
speech is a model of brevity. His “of
the people, by the people, for the
people” is always employed as an
example of parallelism, and he kept his
words simple. In short, Lincoln
considered his listening audience when
writing his speech.
The habit of common and
continuous speech is a
symptom of mental
deficiency. It proceeds from
not knowing what is going on
in other people’s minds.
~ Walter Bagehot
When you sit down to compose a
speech, keep in mind that you are
writing for the ear rather than the eye.
Listeners cannot go back and re-read
what you have just said. They need to
grasp your message in the amount of
time it takes you to speak the words.
To help them accomplish this, you need
to give listeners a clear idea of your
overarching aim, reasons to care, and
cues about what is important. You
need to inspire them to want to not just
hear but engage in what you are saying.
make your listeners care
Humans are motivated by ego; they
always want to know “what’s in it for
me?” So, when you want to want to get
an audience’s attention, it is imperative
to establish a reason for your listeners
to care about what you are saying.
Some might say Oprah did this by
giving away cars at the end of an
episode. But, that only explains why
people waited in line for hours to get a
chance to sit in the audience as her
shows were taped. As long as they
were in the stands, they didn’t need to
listen to get the car at the end of the
show. Yet Oprah had audiences
listening to her for 25 years before she
launched her own network. She made
listeners care about what she was
saying. She told them what was in that
episode for them. She made her
audience members feel like she was
talking to them about their problems,
and offering solutions that they could
use – even if they weren’t multibillionaires known worldwide by first
name alone.
Audiences are also more responsive
when you find a means to tap their
intrinsic motivation, by appealing to
curiosity, challenging them, or
providing contextualization
(VanDeVelde Luskin, 2003). You
might appeal to the audience’s curiosity
if you are giving an informative speech
about a topic they might not be familiar
with already. Even in a narrative
speech, you can touch on curiosity by
cueing the audience to the significant
thing they will learn about you or your
topic from the story. A speech can
present a challenge too. Persuasive
speeches challenge the audience to
think in a new way. Special Occasion
speeches might challenge the listeners
to reflect or prompt action. Providing a
listener with contextualization comes
back to the what’s in it for me
motivation. A student giving an
informative speech about the steps in
creating a mosaic could simply offer a
step-by-step outline of the process, or
she can frame it by saying to her
listener, “by the end of my speech,
you’ll have all the tools you need to
make a mosaic on your own.” This
promise prompts the audience to sit
further forward in their seats for what
might otherwise be a dry how-to
This Way!
cue your listeners
Audiences also lean in further when
you employ active voice. We do this in
speaking without hesitation. Imagine
you were walking across campus and
saw the contents of someone’s room
dumped out on the lawn in front of
your dorm. You’d probably tell a
friend: “The contents of Jane’s room
were thrown out the window by Julie.”
Wait, that doesn’t sound right. You’re
more likely to say: “Julie threw Jane’s
stuff out the window!” The latter is an
example of active voice. You put the
actor (Julie) and the action (throwing
Jane’s stuff) at the beginning. When
we try to speak formally, we can fall
into passive voice. Yet, it sounds
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
stuffy, and so unfamiliar to your
listener’s ear that he will struggle to
process the point while you’ve already
moved on to the next thing you wanted
to say.
Twice and thrice over, as
they say, good is it to repeat
and review what is good.
~ Plato
Knowing that your audience only
hears what you are saying the one time
you say it, invites you to employ
repetition. Listeners are more likely to
absorb a sound when it is repeated. We
are often unconsciously waiting for a
repetition to occur so we can confirm
what we thought we heard (Brownell,
1996). As a result, employing
repetition can emphasize an idea for the
listener. Employing repetition of a
word, words, or sentence can create a
rhythm for the listener’s ear.
Employing repetition too often, though,
can be tiresome.
If you don’t want to repeat things so
often you remind your listener of a
sound clip on endless loop, you can
also cue your listener through vocal
emphasis. Volume is a tool speakers
can employ to gain attention. Certainly
parents use it all of the time. Yet, you
probably don’t want to spend your
entire speech shouting at your
audience. Instead, you can modulate
your voice so that you say something
important slightly louder. Or, you say
something more softly, although still
audible, before echoing it again with
greater volume to emphasize the
repetition. Changing your pitch or
volume can help secure audience
attention for a longer period of time, as
we welcome the variety.
Pace is another speaker’s friend.
This is not to be confused with the
moving back and forth throughout a
speech that someone might do
nervously (inadvertently inducing
motion sickness in his audience).
Instead it refers to planning to pause
after an important point or question to
allow your audience the opportunity to
think about what you have just said.
Or, you might speak more quickly
(although still clearly) to emphasize
your fear or build humor in a long list
of concerns while sharing an anecdote.
Alternately, you could slow down for
more solemn topics or to emphasize the
words in a critical statement. For
instance, a persuasive speaker lobbying
for an audience to stop cutting down
trees in her neighborhood might say,
“this can’t continue. It’s up to you to do
something.” But imagine her saying
these words with attention paid to
pacing and each period representing a
pause. She could instead say, “This.
Can’t. Continue. It’s up to you. Do
When I was a little boy, starting as
early as four, my father would wake me
up on Fall Saturdays with the same
three words: “It’s Game Day!” My
dad was a big Clemson Tigers fan, so
we might drive to Death Valley to see a
game. Everyone would come: my
mom, my grandparents, and friends
who went to Clemson too. We would
all tailgate before the game – playing
corn hole, tossing a foam football, and
watching the satellite TV. Even though
we loved Clemson football best, all
college football was worth watching.
You never knew when there would be
an upset. You could count on seeing
pre-professional athletes performing
amazing feats. But, best of all, it was a
way to bond with my family, and later
my friends.
Both introductions set up the topic
and even give an idea of how the
speech will be organized. Yet, the
second one is made more interesting by
the human element. The speech is
convince them to engage
Listeners respond to people.
Consider this introduction to a speech
about a passion for college football:
It’s college football season! Across
the nation, the season begins in late
summer. Teams play in several
different divisions including the SEC,
the ACC, and Big Ten. Schools make a
lot of money playing in the different
divisions, because people love to watch
football on TV. College football is
great for the fans, the players, and the
Now, compare it to this introduction
to another speech about the same
The college football enthusiast
speaker might continue to make the
speech interesting to his listeners by
appealing to commonalities. He might
acknowledge that not everyone in his
class is a Clemson fan, but all of them
can agree that their school’s football
team is fun to watch. Connecting with
the audience through referencing things
the speaker has in common with the
listeners can function as an appeal to
ethos. The speaker is credible to the
audience because he is like them. Or, it
can work as an appeal to pathos. A
speaker might employ this emotional
appeal in a persuasive speech about
Habitat for Humanity by asking her
audience to think first about the
comforts of home or dorm living that
they all take for granted.
If you engage people on a
vital, important level, they
will respond.
~ Edward Bond
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
In speaking to the audience about the
comforts of dorm living, the speaker is
unlikely to refer to the “dormitories
where we each reside.” More likely,
she might say, “the dorms we live in.”
As with electing to use active voice,
speakers can choose to be more
conversational than they might be in
writing an essay on the same topic.
The speaker might use contractions, or
colloquialisms, or make comparisons to
popular television shows, music, or
movies. This will help the listeners feel
like the speaker is in conversation with
them – admittedly a one-sided one –
rather than talking at them. It can be
off-putting to feel the speaker is simply
reciting facts and figures and rushing to
get through to the end of their speech,
whereas listeners respond to someone
talking to them calmly and confidently.
Being conversational can help to
convey this attitude even when on the
inside the speaker is far from calm or
confident. Nevertheless, employ this
strategy with caution. Being too
colloquial, for instance using “Dude”
throughout the speech, could
undermine your credibility. Or a
popular culture example that you think
is going to be widely recognized might
not be the common knowledge you
think it is, and could confuse audiences
with non-native listeners.
Choice of attention – to pay
attention to this and ignore
that – is to the inner life what
choice of action is to the
outer. In both cases, a man is
responsible for his choice
and must accept the
consequences, whatever they
may be.
~ W. H. Auden
Admittedly, this discussion of
listening may add a layer of
intimidation for public speakers. After
all, it can be daunting to think of
having to get an audience to not only
hear, but also truly listen.
Nevertheless, once we recognize the
difference and become aware of active
listening and its barriers, we can better
tailor our spoken words to captivate
and engage an audience. A broader
awareness of the importance of
effective listening is another weapon in
your arsenal as a public speaker. At the
same time, building up your own
effective listening skills can enhance
your academic, professional, and
personal success. Being heard is one
thing, but speakers need listeners to
complete the communication loop.
Reap the rewards: Instead of saying “I
hear you,” try out “I’m listening.”
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
review questions and activities
review questions
1. What distinguishes listening from hearing?
2. What are some benefits for you personally from effective listening?
3. Name and give an example of each of the three A’s of active listening.
4. Identify the three main barriers to listening. Which of these barriers is most problematic for you? What
can you do about it?
5. What does an effective listener do with the extra thought process time while a speaker is speaking only
150 words-per-minute?
6. How can you communicate non-verbally that you are listening?
7. What are some considerations in offering constructive feedback?
8. What are strategies that help hold your listeners’ attention during your speech?
1. Discuss the following in small groups. How do your listening behaviors change in the following
situations: A) At a concert, B) In class, C) At the dinner table with your parents, D) In a doctor’s
office? What are the distractions and other barriers to listening you might encounter in each setting?
What might you do to overcome the barriers to effective listening in each situation?
2. Listen to someone you disagree with (maybe a politician from the opposing party) and work to listen
actively with an open mind. Try to pay attention to the person’s argument and the reasons he offers in
support of his point of view. Your goal is to identify why the speaker believes what he does and how he
proves it. You need not be converted by this person’s argument.
3. Reflect on a situation in your personal life where poor listening skills created a problem. Briefly
describe the situation, then spend the bulk of your reflection analyzing what went wrong in terms of
listening and how, specifically, effective listening would have made a difference. Share your
observations in small group class discussion.
4. Spend a few minutes brainstorming your trigger words. What are the words that would provoke a strong
emotional response in you? List three concrete strategies you might use to combat this while being an
effective listener.
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
Appreciative Listening
Listening for entertainment or
pleasure purposes. This is the type of
listening we might employ listening
to music, watching television, or
viewing a movie.
Auditory Association
The process by which the mind sorts
the perceived sound into a category
so that heard information is
recognized. New stimuli is
differentiated by comparing and
contrasting with previously heard
Communication Loop
A traditional communication model
that has both sender and receiver
sharing responsibility for
communicating a message, listening,
and offering feedback. The sender
encodes a message for the receiver to
decode. Effectiveness of the
communication depends on the two
sharing a similar interpretation of the
message and feedback (which can be
verbal or nonverbal).
Constructive Feedback
Focuses on being specific,
applicable, immediate, and intends to
help the speaker to improve. The
feedback should be phrased as “The
story you told about you and your
sister in Disneyland really helped me
to understand your relationship…”
rather than “that was great, Jane.”
Critical Listening
When we are listening, aiming to
gain information with which we will
evaluate a speaker, or the product or
proposal the speaker is endorsing.
This is often employed when we are
looking to make choices, or find
points of disagreement with a
“Deaf Spots”
The preconceived notions or beliefs
a listener might hold dear that can
interfere with listening effectively.
These are barriers to having an open
mind to receive the sender’s
Emotional Trigger
A word, concept, or idea that causes
the listener to react emotionally.
When listeners react to a speaker
from an emotional perspective, their
ability to listen effectively is
Empathetic (Therapeutic) Listening
A level of relationship listening that
aims to help the speaker feel heard
and understand, also appreciated.
This is also known as therapeutic
listening as it is employed most often
by counselors, conflict mediators, or
religious representatives.
A speaker aims to establish
credibility on the topic at hand with
her audience by appealing to ethos.
This reflects the speaker’s character,
her ability to speak to the values of
the listener, and her competence to
discuss the topic.
Hearing is a three-step process. It
involves receiving sound in the ear,
perceiving sound in the brain, and
processing the information offered
by the sound to associate and
distinguish it.
Informational Listening
Listening to learn information. For
instance, this is the kind of listening
students employ in classroom
settings to gain knowledge about a
Intrinsic Motivation
Effective listeners will find a reason
within themselves to want to hear,
understand, interpret, and remember
the speaker’s message. Wanting to
pass a possible quiz is an extrinsic
motivation, while wanting to learn
the material out of curiosity about
the topic is intrinsic motivation.
“Listener’s Lean”
Audience members who are intent on
what is being said will lean forward.
This is a nonverbal endorsement of
the listener’s attention and the effect
of the speaker’s message.
This is the conscious act of focusing
on the words or sounds to make
meaning of a message. Listening
requires more intentional effort than
the physiological act of hearing.
Listening Reminder
A note made by a listener
acknowledging intent to focus on the
speaker’s message and tune out
distractions. A reminder might also
encourage a listener to keep an open
mind, or to provide open and
encouraging body language.
Nonverbal Communication
Physical behaviors that communicate
the message or the feedback from the
listener. These include leaning in,
nodding one’s head, maintaining eye
contact, crossing arms in front of the
body, and offering sounds of
agreement or dissent.
An appeal to the audience’s
emotions, trying to trigger sympathy,
pity, guilt, or sorrow. Pathos, along
with ethos, and logos, make up the
rhetorical triangle of appeals,
according to Aristotle. An effective
speaker will appeal to all three.
Relational Listening
The active and involved listening
we do with people we love and care
about. This is listening where we
acknowledge our sympathy for the
speaker, encourage them to tell
more, and build trust with friends or
family members by showing
interest in their concerns.
Writing for the Ear
Keeping in mind, when writing a
speech, that you must use language,
pace, repetition, and other elements
to help your audience to hear and see
what you are speaking about.
Remember, the listener must hear
and understand your message as you
speak it.
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
Adler, M. J. (1983). How to speak,
how to listen. New York:
Bell, C. & Mejer, C. (2011, February
13). The silent killers of
productivity and profit.
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from http://www.listening
Bommelje, R., Houston, J. M., &
Smither, R. (2003). Personality
characteristics of effective
listening: A five factor
perspective. International Journal
of Listening, 17, 32- 46.
Boothman, N. (2008). How to make
people like you in 90 seconds or
less. NY: Workman Publishing.
Ferrari, B. (2012). Power listening:
Mastering the most critical
business skill of all. New York:
Hoppe, M. H. (2006). Active
listening: Improve your ability to
listen and lead [ebook].
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Creative Leadership.
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Kaponya, P. J. (1991). The human
resource professional: Tactics and
strategies for career success. New
York: Praeger Publishers.
McFerran, J. (2009, August 29).
Open-door policy not enough to be
a leader who can listen. Winnipeg
Free Press. doi:7BS2732928311
Miller, C. (1994). The empowered
communicator: Keys to unlocking
an audience. Nashville:
Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Brownell, J. (1996). Listening:
Attitudes, principles, and skills.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Nichols, R. G. (1957). Listening is a
10 part skill. Chicago, IL:
Enterprise Publications. Retrieved
from http://d1025403.site.my
Nichols, M. P. (1995). The lost art of
listening. New York: Guilford.
Pease, A., & Pease, B. (2006). The
definitive book of body language.
New York: Bantam Books.
Ramsland, K. M. (1992). The art of
learning: A self-help manual for
students. Albany: SUNY UP.
VanDeVelde Luskin, C. (2003,
September). Mark Lepper:
Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic
motivation and the process of
learning. In Bing Times Online,
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Address. (1989). U. S. Inaugural
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Accessed Sept. 2, 2012.
Wobser, A. (2004). Developing
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Ellis, D. (1998). Becoming a master
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photo credits
p. 2
Hearing mechanics
By Zina Deretsky
P. 3
Senator Joe Biden
by SEIU Walk a Day in My Shoes
p. 3
Chinese symbol for listening
p. 4
Navy class
By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman
Charles Thomas Green
p. 5
A public lecture at NAO Rozhen
by Daniel Chanliev
p. 6
Esther Brimmer
by United States Mission Geneva
p. 7
Dachau concentration camp lecture
by Adam Jones, Ph.D.
p. 8
William Henry Harrison
by The White House Historical Association
p. 9
Clemson Tigers
by Jim Ferguson
p. 10
Audience members listen to Trevor Romain,
by Elaine Wilson
Chapter 4 Listening Effectively
Appendix A
Listening Profile
The questions below correspond to each of the six listening components in HURIER: Hearing,
Understanding, Remembering, Interpreting, Evaluating, and Responding. Before answering the questions, first
guess which of the six you will do best at. In which area will you likely score lowest? Now, respond to the
following prompts gauging your listening behavior on a five-point scale (1= almost never, 2=infrequently, 3=
sometimes, 4= often, 5= almost always).
____ 1. I am constantly aware that people and circumstances change over time.
____ 2. I take into account the speaker’s personal and cultural perspective when listening to him or her.
____ 3. I pay attention to the important things going on around me.
____ 4. I accurately hear what is said to me.
____ 5. I understand the speaker’s vocabulary and recognize that my understanding of a work is likely to be
somewhat different from the speaker’s.
____ 6. I adapt my response according to the needs of the particular situation.
____ 7. I weigh all evidence before making a decision.
____ 8. I take time to analyze the validity of my partner’s reasoning before arriving at my own conclusion.
____ 9. I can recall what I have heard, even when in stressful situations.
____ 10. I enter communication situations with a positive attitude.
____ 11. I ask relevant questions and restate my perceptions to make sure I have understood the speaker
____ 12. I provide clear and direct feedback to others.
____ 13. I do not let my emotions interfere with my listening or decision-making.
____ 14. I remember how the speaker’s facial expressions, body posture, and other nonverbal behaviors relate
to the verbal message.
____ 15. I overcome distractions such as the conversation of others, background noises, and telephones, when
someone is speaking.
____ 16. I distinguish between main ideas and supporting evidence when I listen.
____ 17. I am sensitive to the speaker’s tone in communication situations.
____ 18. I listen to and accurately remember what is said, even when I strongly disagree with the speaker’s
Add your scores for 4 + 10 + 15. This is your hearing total.
Add your scores for 5 + 11 + 16. This is your understanding total.
Add your scores for 1 + 7 + 8. This is your evaluating total.
Add your scores for 3 + 9 + 18. This is your remembering total.
Add your scores for 2 + 14 + 17. This is your interpreting total.
Add your scores for 6 + 12 + 13. This is your responding total.
In which skill area do you score highest? Which is your lowest? How would these listening behaviors affect
your interactions with peers, parents, instructors, or professional co-workers?
Source: Adapted from J. Brownell, (1996), Listening: Attitudes, Principles and Skills, pp. 29 – 31, Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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