This is an ongoing series of posts on presentation and listening skills, starting with “10 Things You Can Do To Help Your Audience Listen Better.”
There’s an odd truth to listening, and it’s this: every time you listen, there are actually two voices in the conversation.
- You listen to the speaker.
- You listen to yourself, also known as the voice in the back of your head. Also known as the ‘Little Voice.’
When you reverse the situation – that is, you are the speaker and your audience is filled with people plus all those Little Voices – the dynamic becomes even more animated, if not complicated.
Is your audience listening to you, or are they listening to themselves? Which voice is louder? Which one is more credible? Can you ever ‘over-ride’ their Little Voice?
In fact, you may remember a time when you were speaking to an audience, and you saw one specific person who was not listening to you but you could sense they were listening to themselves. Perhaps you even started listening to your own voice about this person. So, they were using their Little Voice to listen to you, and you were using your Little Voice to think about them. It’s funny how we ever listen at all, isn’t it?
Also known as “self-talk,” the Little Voice is extremely important to understand in order to improve your presentation skills. At its most beneficial, the Little Voice tells you what to believe. It can be a credible sounding-board, so it protects you, keeps you safe. But at the other end of the spectrum, the Little Voice can be destructive. It tells you you aren’t good enough. It saps your self-confidence and makes you (more) nervous when you speak. If it’s a life-long habit, it’ll increase your stress levels and might potentially shorten your life. In the area between good and bad, the Little Voice is mostly distracting. Most common, when you hope your audience is listening to your ideas, they’re already forming their rebuttal to what you’re saying.
There are plenty of “myths” in cyber-land about self-talk, much of it focused on its negativity. For example, one “source” says the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day, and of these, more than 80% (48,000) are negative. (The source goes on to same that 75% of your negative thoughts – or 36,000 – are same thoughts you thought yesterday. So much for creative thinking.) Whether or not the numbers are true is not relevant: self-talk is mostly negative by nature. What’s important, as speakers helping our audiences listen to our ideas, is to find ways to over-rule the Little Voice. Otherwise, we won’t achieve our objective for speaking in the first place.
I’ve learnt over the years that the voice listens for four things:
The little voice listens for their expectations to be realized, or not. The question you should ask yourself: What does this audience want to hear about from me? How much is that expectation in alignment with what I want to say? Depending upon their expectation and my objective, how will this change the structure and messages of my presentation?
The little voices listens for what they already know. The question you should ask yourself: What don’t they know about this topic? What’s the best way to “teach” them about the topic without talking down to them? What’s the fastest way to talk to them without making the simplistic, as opposed to simple? (Simple is OK, simplistic is not.)
The little voice listens for your attitude about the topic, to see if it matches their own. The question you should ask yourself: What is their attitude about the topic? And, why do they have that attitude? What are their past experiences with your topic? Perceptions are real, so whatever they believe is true to them … but which may not be accurate or factual. How do you balance these two aspects so you don’t alienate your audience from listening to your ideas?
Finally – as I described briefly in the previous post on this topic – the little voice listens for your credibility. The question you should ask yourself: What’s your credibility as an expert? As opposed to someone else, how or why should you be speaking on this subject?
Lastly, this is no accurate list, but over the years – again, through my own work in communications plus my workshops – I’ve tried to define the different “little voices” by emotion. I’m come up with twelve different voices, in the chart above. Any that you’d care to add?
More important, consider what happens when you don’t address any of these emotions. I said before, they’ll stop listening and plan their rebuttal. They’ll ignore you. Their dislike for you increases to animosity. Your credibility is ruined, perhaps forever. They will talk about you negatively behind your back. Whatever you answered, it’s not the response you want the audience to have.
You need to find ways – subtly or directly, whichever is appropriate and fits your tone and personality – to address the emotion. Then, you will have the audience listening, really listening to your ideas.