In a single day, our ears consume 20K-30K words. Theoretically, most of our lives are spent listening and communicating, processing and responding. How individuals listen and respond to messages varies dramatically across genders, race, and locale. In The Pragmatics of Intercultural and International Communication, a compilation of researchers assessed the differences in listening styles of Americans and Japanese. Through a study of American and Japanese participants’ conversations, the researchers discovered that each culture viewed the act of listening through different lens. By evaluating the frequency of “displays of recognition,” the researchers were able to come to a conclusion. Americans approach listening in a more passive manner than Japanese, who understand the value of interaction in any discourse. The data findings reveal some crucial aspects of the science of listening in a presentation environment – namely, that presenters need to be aware that everyone processes and responds to information differently. Therefore, audience response is a valuable indicator of a presenter’s effectiveness in delivering his or her message. An understanding of the following 5 listening styles and strategies will help any presenter assess audience response.

Science of Listening

5 Core Listening Styles and Strategies

Everybody hears, but we don’t all listen in every instance. But, a presentation requires an audience to do both. As a presenter, you should craft your deck and narrative according to 5 listening styles and strategies.

1. Appreciative Listening

You are sitting in a coffee shop with your best friend. Over caramel lattes and chocolate chip scones, your friend tells you about her most recent Tinder date – which surprise, surprise, went terribly. He ordered the most expensive steak and wine on the menu and then shifted the check onto her. What a jerk, right? When you are engaged in this type of conversation, you are likely practicing appreciative listening. You are listening for the pure joy of the story. You aren’t necessarily expected to provide constructive feedback or form a staunch position.

When a presenter includes a creative narrative or intertwines a story throughout a deck, it enforces an area of appreciative listening. So don’t expect your audience to throw any inquisitive conjectures and interesting ideas at you.

2. Critical Listening

Have you ever attended a local political debate or watched a national debate on TV? If so, you’ve engaged in critical listening. You had to listen carefully to the words the speakers said, assign arguments and stances to each politician, and decide how you feel about the information revealed. Critical listening involves two main goals: analyzing the content and pinpointing the speaker’s leanings and objectives.

Think about it. Throughout your entire presentation, for the most part, your audience is critically listening to your messaging. You don’t want to keep your audience guessing, so it is wise to inform them of your agenda – the sequence of sections and how you plan to structure your argument or plea.

3. Relationship Listening

You may have had a friend come to you searching for support and encouragement. Or maybe someone in your life struggled with a problem and approached you for possible solutions. I am admittedly a fixer. I like to fix things. I like to be helpful. So I’ve experienced situations where I am asked for advice or input on many occasions. While it is a tasking form of listening, it is also the most important to developing a strong connection with another person – or in the presentation space – with your audience members.

During the discussion portions of your presentations, both you and the audience will turn on your relationship listening caps. If you ask a question of your audience, you are basically placing a burden on them to solve a problem for you. Oftentimes, the audience response will be a lively conversation where more questions are then lobbed to you. Relish in the beauty of relationship listening and the deep insight it can provide into your listeners.

4. Discriminative Listening

Beyond the words. That’s the indicator of discriminative listening. It can happen at the very beginning of a presentation, when your audience assesses your body language, the outfit you chose to wear, and the facial expressions you use. Discriminative listening is used when deciphering and decoding written messages as well. I cannot count the times I have taken a text message or email to mean one thing when the intent was something entirely different. Tone is everything in the presentation space. Always keep your inflection in check when speaking to your audiences in order to convey your message.

5. Informative Listening

In our daily lives, we are constantly listening to be informed. From watching the news in the morning to attending that digital marketing Meetup after work, our day is consumed with gathering information. Your presentation event is no different. Your audience is there to be informed and increase their education and understanding of a particular subject, product, or idea.

To ease comprehension of your information and data, try out the tactics and methods outlined in the following articles from the Ethos3 archives:

Capitalization in a Presentation: Why Consistency is King

The Progression of Points in a Recent TED Talk by Pope Francis

How to Use Correct Subject-Verb Agreement in Your Presentations

Audiences, Listen for These Core Presentation Elements

Presentation Design Best Practice: How to Represent Complex Process Models


So, what does this mean for you, presenters? It means that fostering a closer relationship with your content and putting yourself in the shoes – or ears – of your presentation audience can only result in a clearer message and more positive audience response. It means that you can take advantage of the comprehension center of the human brain – a region of the primary cortex called Wernicke’s area – by facilitating your message’s journey from Point A to Point B. Know the techniques to motivate your audience through each listening stage and strategy. Incorporate the items based on the science of listening below into your next presentation.

Space discussion questions throughout your slide sections

Provide a takeaway deck or one sheet with important points at the end of your speech

Paraphrase questions audience members ask you before responding with your answer

Focus on delivering high-quality content of immediate value to your specific group of listeners

Stay around after the presentation to further engage with presentation attendees

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