11.1 Importance of Listening

“Are you listening to me?” This question is often asked because the speaker thinks the listener is nodding off or daydreaming. We sometimes think that listening means we only have to sit back, stay barely awake, and let a speaker’s words wash over us. While many Americans look upon being active as something to admire, to engage in, and to excel at, listening is often understood as a “passive” activity. More recently, O, the Oprah Magazine featured a cover article with the title, “How to Talk So People Really Listen: Four Ways to Make Yourself Heard.” This title leads us to expect a list of ways to leave the listening to others and insist that they do so, but the article contains a surprise ending. The final piece of advice is this: “You can’t go wrong by showing interest in what other people say and making them feel important. In other words, the better you listen, the more you’ll be listened to” (Jarvis, 2009).

You may have heard the adage, “We have two ears but only one mouth”—an easy way to remember that listening can be twice as important as talking. As a student, you most likely spend many hours in a classroom doing a large amount of focused listening, yet sometimes it is difficult to apply those efforts to communication in other areas of your life. As a result, your listening skills may not be all they could be. In this chapter, we will examine listening versus hearing, listening styles, listening difficulties, listening stages, and listening critically.


Pistol Pete stands with a group of college students in a bouncy house.

Even though Pistol Pete had always been more comfortable in the spotlight, cheering on the crowds at Oklahoma State University, he found himself in a different role in his public speaking class. Rather than being the center of attention, Pete was often in the audience, listening to his peers present their speeches.

While some speeches were riveting and engaging, others didn’t quite pique his interest. Regardless, Pete understood the importance of being a good listener and a supportive audience member. He remembered his own nervousness when delivering speeches and knew how much it mattered to have an attentive audience.

Pete decided to practice effective listening skills, focusing his attention entirely on the speaker, no matter the topic. He made a conscious effort to maintain eye contact, giving the speaker non-verbal feedback and showing his engagement. He understood that eye contact was a simple yet effective way to show respect and encourage the speaker.

Additionally, Pete worked on keeping his mind from wandering, a common challenge when the speech wasn’t particularly interesting. He found that taking notes helped him stay focused. He jotted down key points, interesting ideas, or questions that came to his mind, keeping his brain active and engaged throughout the speech.

He also made sure to provide positive feedback after each presentation, appreciating the speaker’s effort and highlighting parts of the speech that stood out to him. Even if the topic wasn’t of personal interest, he knew that every speaker had put in effort and deserved recognition.

Moreover, Pete refrained from any disruptive behavior, such as talking, using his phone, or doing other tasks during speeches. He realized that being respectful was not just about paying attention but also about creating a supportive environment that allowed the speaker to deliver their speech without unnecessary distractions.

Through these conscious efforts, Pistol Pete became a model audience member in his speech class. Despite the content of the speeches, he managed to stay engaged and supportive, understanding that being a good listener was as crucial as being a good speaker. His actions set a positive example for his classmates, fostering a respectful and encouraging atmosphere for everyone in the class. Are you an effective listener in class? Are you a supportive listener when peers are presenting? How can you improve your listening skills to be more like Pete?

*Pistol Pete scenarios are all based on hypothetical events and were written with the use of Chatgpt and careful editing by Speech Communication faculty. 


Jarvis, T. (2009, November). How to talk so people really listen: Four ways to make yourself heard. O, the Oprah Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/relationships/Communication-Skills-How-to-Make-Yourself-Heard



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