How we listen, is an essential skill all speakers must develop, however, it is a skill that can be developed with practice. At almost every Toastmasters meeting, members and guests get the opportunity to answer questions. Even when some guests decide to take a pass on the Table Topics questions, we usually get visitors at the end of the meeting to at least comment on what they heard, saw and felt at the meeting. Yes, we make sure that no one shall escape speaking at a Toastmasters meeting. We listen to understand and speak effectively,
While most members and guests tend to focus on answering the questions, I have found that if you use the Table Topics segment to practice and develop your listening skills, even when you are not the one called upon to answer any of the questions, you may find this portion of the meeting, extremely beneficial to your development as a listener and speaker.
As a first step, we should try to analyze what we do subconsciously when someone else is speaking. Many of us begin preparing our answer, just waiting to begin speaking. The experts claim that most likely we learned this behavior as children and perfect it as adults. When this approach is used, the result is all forms of miscommunication, misrepresentation, and misinterpretation in our responses. Yes, all the misses. Relationships are also affected by this approach when communicating in business and social circles.
An excellent approach I found to correct this method of listening is to try to understand the meaning behind the question. Paying attention to body language used by the speaker will often help clarify the meaning. I am sure you have heard it said many times, actions speak louder than words. Shut down the internal noises in your head so the incoming messages from the speaker can be received clearly. Focus on the body language used by the speaker. Again, the experts claim the spoken word accounts for only seven percent of our communication.So happy I am not an expert.
It is quite natural to have some anxiety when faced with questions. Using your standard mechanisms to control nervous impulses is a good starting point. Breathe! Where there is breath, there is life. Stabilize your heart rate. Experts believe that deep breathing is the right approach to move the noise from your head to your chest. Give it a try. It should not hurt if your focus is breathing and listening. You should feel calm.
Begin your response by using what I call a silent icebreaker. Set the mood by using your body language to express how you were affected by the question. Use facial expressions silently, as you playback what you believe the speaker meant when he said what was said. You have the six emotions to play with here. Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.
Once the speaker has stopped speaking, it is now your turn to speak. Paraphrasing, what you heard is a good place to start. If there is agreement about the understanding of the question, you should be off to a good start. By that time, you should be at ease to address what you saw and felt. Now that is exactly why it is so important to work on your listening skills. It sets the stage for a good answer. What you saw and felt along with your words and body language, should satisfy any Table Topics Master at your club meetings or at those testy Table Topics sessions at home.