As a professional speaker, I am often asked what skills I believe a speaker needs to possess and perfect in order to be successful. People ask me if it is being polished, poised, well spoken, or practiced and it is all of these, but one of the key skills I believe speakers need to master in order to be successful is to know how to listen effectively.

We are in such a hurry these days and it seems that more than ever, slowing down and actually listening to what is being said around us and to us is becoming a lost art. Is it because we do not care what people are saying or is it because listening actually requires work? Listening takes effort, and in a world where people tend to want everything faster, easier, with less work, because of the amount of energy that listening requires, many people just do not bother.

In today’s article, I am going to share 9 tips with you to help you to develop effective listening skills which are just as important as developing your speaking skills. Great communication is a dynamic dance: a tango between effective listening and thoughtful speaking.

  1. Understand the difference between ‘active’ and ‘passive’ listening – when you are actively listening you are engaged, leaning in and using every sense you have to listen. When you listen ‘passively’ you only hear the words with your ears and often they simply go in one ear and right out of the other. You are letting the sound of the words wash over you rather than going forward to greet them.
  2. Carefully listen to the tone of the voice – what feelings does the speaker’s voice evoke in you? Can you determine the speaker’s emotional state beyond the words you are hearing? Listen too for the rhythm, cadence, tone, and pitch of their voice for it will signal shifts or transitions. They might also let you know what is important and what is not.
  3. Listen to the tone of the words – what is the choice of the speaker’s words saying to you beyond the words themselves? When we speak, most of us use differing vocabularies based on whom we are speaking to and what it is we are saying to our listeners.
  4. Be attentive to the speaker’s body language – especially their face and hands. Watch for the non-verbal cues they give off for they give suggestions as to how you should be interpreting what they are saying. Only 10-15% of communication is verbal (words). The remaining 85-90% is nonverbal (primarily body language).
  5. Pay close attention to cues – that will often signal note-worthy information or summary statements. Cues could include statements like, “There are two important steps I want you to remember. The first is…” or “To sum things up…
  6. Resist the urge to react or respond – let the words that are being spoken communicate with you freely. If you have shifted your attention away from the speaker to yourself because you are already deciding what you are going to say, they are not flowing freely. You block communication when you have a premature outburst either in your mind or aloud.
  7. Eliminate outer and inner distractions – turn off what you can and consciously block out the rest. Quiet the urge within you to think about anything other than what you are hearing. If you allow your mind to wander then you let yourself lapse into ‘passive’ rather than ‘active’ listening.
  8. Practice playing back what ‘you think’ you heard – this does not mean parroting a speakers words back to them. If it is appropriate to check your understanding of what you have heard, then use your own words to paraphrase or summarize what was said to ask for confirmation or clarification.
  9. Record your calls with potential clients and event planners – however let them know you are doing this at the start of the call. You can position it by asking if they are comfortable with you doing so as it will allow you to focus on the conversation at hand. Afterwards, play the call back and really listen to determine what percentage of the time you did the talking and what percentage they spoke. Also, pay close attention to how you answered their questions. Did you really give them an answer to the question they asked?

At the end of the day, effective listening skills help you and everyone else around you. Learning to be a good listener may take some time so be gentle with yourself as a new habit takes about 21 days to become part of your makeup.

Try to be aware of how you are listening when you are engaged in a conversation or listening to someone giving a presentation. Try to quell the reactions that tend to pop into your mind or out of your mouth when you are listening without consideration. If you have never been consciously listened to, then really listening to others may feel a bit strange at the start but do not worry it will become easier over time.

To Your Success!