We don’t usually endeavor to sound like your mother, or that crotchety elementary teacher who still rings in your head from time to time, but God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we speak. But what does that mean for the presenter, whose whole job is to speak, sometimes at length, with limited interruption?

Skilled communicators are skilled listeners, but listening and speaking aren’t always a closed loop. The physiological ratio of 2x listening to 1x speaking applies even to presenters. What that means is you need to do your listening up front, before you speak. “Listening” is part of the presentation development process. It’s how you decide what to say—and how.

Here are a few keys to incorporating listening into your next presentation:

1. Channel your inner reporter: Take time to identify all the potential constituents of your audience. Customers, investors, managers, subordinates, industry partners, and even competitors can help you develop a presentation that truly “threads the needle”. But don’t just guess what they’d say: pick up the phone or whip out your Starbucks card and get it from the horses’ mouths.

2. Be a punching bag: Many people don’t like feedback because it hurts. It’s tough being the initiator and creator; it’s easier to sit back and opine about others’ efforts. But this world is for doers, so put your draft together and gather feedback from many sources. The point isn’t to stroke your ego; it’s to be at the hub of a facilitation process that’s engineered to deliver a killer deck.

3. Set the stage: The first moments of your presentation are essential for framing the context of your message and your expertise. Consider moving a controlled Q&A section up to your introduction. Many presenters fill this space with their personal bio, trying to establish credibility, but the best form of credibility is demonstrating the ability to ask the right questions and frame your presentation in light of the audience’s engagement. Just keep it tight and specific so you don’t lose control before you begin!

By putting in the listening legwork throughout the presentation development process, you can make sure that by the time you start speaking, you’re right in line with the most important communications principle of all: listen more than you speak!

Question of the day: How does your organization promote active listening to keep internal and external messaging on target?

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