Good Speaking Requires Good Listening Help
Introduction to Good Speaking Requires Good Listening
It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809–1894
Before you can become an effective speaker, you must learn to be an active listener and observer of your surroundings and your audience. By listening to others and to yourself, you will learn what makes or breaks a great speech.
A wise man once said, "Nobody ever learned anything while he was talking." This is not entirely true when it comes to public speaking, because the art of public speaking can only be learned by speaking in public. In this sense, you will learn while you are talking.
Nevertheless, there is still truth in that maxim. You are reading this book because you want to learn how to speak in public effectively, and part of your learning will involve listening. You will want to listen to others who speak well so that you can learn by imitating their styles and content. You will also want to listen to public speakers who don't make such a good impression, and learn how to strengthen your own abilities by avoiding their short-comings. Perhaps most important of all, you will want to listen to yourself as though you were sitting in the audience, asking yourself how you'd respond if you were listening to someone else deliver your speech.
This lesson will help you learn how to listen by showing you the sort of problems that can hinder your own public speaking. You will learn these things by paying attention to others who speak in public, whether you're listening to a college lecture or watching a political speech on television, noting the speaker's delivery style and content while also paying attention to how well you're paying attention. You can then take that information and apply it to your own content and delivery, because you will have some understanding of how well your own audience is paying attention to you.
Limited Attention Span
It's a well-known fact that people have fairly short attention spans when it comes to listening to someone lecture. This means that the average audience member can only focus on a speaker's words for a certain period of time before he or she stops listening. The average adult can pay careful attention to a task for approximately 20 minutes before losing focus, and the average length of time for children is much shorter. Modern technology and entertainment, such as television and the Internet, also influence our attention span, and many researchers have suggested that people today have shorter attention spans than people did 100 years ago.
The next time you're listening to someone speak, focus on how well you pay attention. When you catch your mind wandering from the speaker's words, take note of how long you'd been paying close attention before you lost focus. Then bring your mind back to the speaker, and see how long you last before your mind wanders again. If you're like most people, you will find that you last approximately three minutes at a stretch before your attention is diverted.
Also, take note of why you stopped paying attention. It doesn't mean you were being disrespectful and it doesn't even necessarily mean that the person giving the speech was doing a bad job. It's human nature to wander.
This knowledge will help you plan your own speeches, since you can generally assume that your audience will be following closely for three minutes before they start to drift away. What you'll want to do is to regain their attention periodically, and you'll want to make the most of those three minutes. We will discuss some strategies that will help in these areas as we go along.
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