Evidence suggests our listening skills can be improved.


·        Recall of a message 24 hours later drops to 50%.

·        Recall at 48 hours is only 2.5%.


A psychology professor found interesting data about his student listeners’ thoughts at the moment he fired a blank shot at the audience.


·        20% were pursuing erotic thoughts or sexual fantasies.

·        20% were reminiscing about something

·        8% were pursuing religious thoughts

·        12% were able to recall the professor’s words when the gun was fired.


Listening, which goes beyond simple physiological processes involves 4 stages.


1.    The first stage is to select-we cannot attend all incoming stimuli, so we choose what we select to hear.

2.    The second stage is to attend-our average attention span is 8 seconds, so as speakers’ we must capture and hold our audiences’ attention.

3.    The third stage is to understand-the process of making sense of the world by assigning meaning to the stimuli we select and attend to.

4.    The fourth is to remember-a class test is a test of both knowledge and listening skills.


Barriers to effective listening exist.


1.    Information Overload is when we select too much information for good remembering, causing us to “tune the speaker out”. You can overcome this barrier by using clear visual materials and by avoiding redundancy.

2.    Personal Concerns-an audience members own personal thoughts compete for attention. Using body movements and voice can employ “wake up messages”.

3.    Outside Distractions-External noise can often distract the listener

4.    Prejudice-a speaker’s appearance, gender, dress, voice, or body can distract.


Public speakers may counteract, or at least minimize prejudice with several techniques.


·        Grab audience attention strongly, from the word go.

·        Focus on listener’s interests, needs, hopes and wishes.

·        Minimize strong emotional appeals, maximize careful language, sound reasoning and convincing evidence.


5.    Wasting Speech Rate and Thought Rate Differences-we have the ability to process words much faster than needed. An average speaker rate of speech is 125 words per minute. We are able to process 700 words per minute. Speakers should be aware of listener’s tendency to stop paying attention.

6.    Receiver Apprehension-is the fear of misunderstanding or misinterpreting the messages of others. This can be overcome by using presentation aids.


Critical listening is the process of listening to evaluate the quality, appropriateness, value and importance of the information. Critical thinking is a mental process of making judgements about conclusions presented by what you see, hear and read.


Evaluation of speeches should proceed from criteria (standards of judgement).


1.    Was the speech understandable to the audience?

2.    Did the speech achieve its intended goal?

3.    Was the speech ethical (facts not twisted, audience not deceived as to the true speech purpose, speech not plagiarized)?


Six principals of criticism will help you to focus and evaluate your speech before you start.

1.    Be descriptive

2.    Be specific

3.    Begin and end with positive comments

4.    Be constructive in giving suggestions or alternatives.

5.    Be sensitive by using “I think” than “you are” statements.

6.    Be realistic by providing usable information








Barker, L. et al. (1980) “An Investigation of Proportional Time Spent in Various Communication Activities by College Students”. Journal of Applied Communication Research. Vol. 8, p. 101-101.


Beebe, Steven., and Beebe, Susan. (2003). Public Speaking. “An Audience-Centered Approach. Fifth Edition. Pearson Education Inc. Boston, Mass.


Villagran, Morris; Wise, Charles and Ivy, Diana. (2003). Public Speaking. “An Audience Centered Approach”. Instructor’s Resource Manual for Beebe and Beebe. Pearson Education Inc. Boston, Mass.


Zeuschner, Raymond. (1997). Communicating Today. Allyn and Bacon. Needham Heights, Massachusetts.