Communicating with Empathy

When both are listening, both are connecting.

Communicating with empathy is a skill all speakers must develop to connect with their audiences. Some may ask how you do that when you are on the platform. You observe your audiences’ body language. We all have heard these words of wisdom by Ralph Waldo Emmerson repeatedly: “Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear what you are saying.” That statement goes both ways. Studies show that your words account for only 7% of the message we convey. The remaining 93% is non-verbal. What about the non-verbal responses you are receiving from your audience. Should you ignore them? No! Communicating with empathy is crucial; whether you are the speaker or listener, when both are listening, both are connecting.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feeling of others. Reading your listener’s reactions does not mean your audience will agree with everything you are communicating. Your presentation is your point of view. You can show empathy by showing that you care, and you are willing to understand why your audience may feel a particular way when you sense agreement or disagreement. Granted, you are not going to make significant changes to your speech when you are on the platform; however, if you take a moment to acknowledge your audience’s reaction, they are more inclined to connect with you. When you sense disagreement, you can show compassion or use eye contact to maintain your connection.

Your audience responses are usually nonverbal; however, a smile or a questioning look will often alert you to the fact that you may have made a connection or have raised a question in the minds of your audience. All unanswered questions are distractions. Put yourself in your listener’s shoes for just a moment. Listeners want to understand what the speaker is communicating. They may have silently verbalized what they have just heard. It is only natural for listeners to respond in a manner that shows agreement or disagreement with the speaker. The speakers who tune into their audience reactions and responses will usually make a connection. Those speakers also practice their formula for maintaining that connection with their audience.

Regardless of how strange your audience responses may appear, it is wise to believe that they will always have a rational explanation for their reaction. Go with the flow as you try to understand their frame of reference. Understanding is an essential first step, especially when dealing with difficult topics. By letting the listener express their deepest emotions, you will most likely understand their frame of reference. As is often said, seek to understand, if you wish to be understood. How you choose to frame your reaction can also make all the difference in defusing disagreements when you are on the platform.

Some speakers handle strong emotions with success by deflecting their feelings. The practice being counter-intuitive. They turn right when you are expecting them to go left. That move can even generate a bit of humor at times. Observe and acknowledge the body language you are receiving as you speak. Make small adjustments as you deliver your presentation. Be in the moment. Maintaining a connection with your audience will determine your success or failure on the platform. When you can make everyone feel special – when you can make people listen and know that you care – when you are present, you are communicating with empathy.

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmaster in March of 1997. He is presently a member of five clubs in the Santa Cruz and San Jose area. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ who likes to approaches his speechwriting similar to his approach to songwriting.