Friday, July 3, 2015

Among the four language skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing), listening is the most important language skill for both management and workers and yet, it is sad to say listening is the most neglected skill as well as the least understood skill.  Perceptive listening needs learning and practice.  To become an effective manager you need to listen carefully to your subordinates, listen to their problems, successes, suggestions (and even their grapevines)!  As a student now and later as a worker you need to listen carefully to your fellow students, lecturers, workers, leaders and customers.

The Difference Between Hearing And Listening 
In the study of Communication Skills, we distinguish between hearing and listening.

(a).Listening is an attempt to receive sound waves into our ears with a purpose of carrying out a specific task (such as following certain instructions, giving specific information, taking notes, etc).
(b).Listening is active-you do something about the listening process 
(c).It involves effort to understand the message.
(d).Listening describes a skill which we have to learn and practice.
(e). Implies a need to use the message

(a).Hearing is an automatic process of receiving sound waves provided our ears are functioning properly (whether we recognize them or not)
(b). Hearing is passive -you have no involvement
(c).Hearing does not involve effort to understand the message.
(d).Hearing is an unlearned process occurring naturally without conscious effort on our part.
(d). Has no intention of using the message

Advantages Of Good Listening
(1).Helps to obtain correct and complete information easily
(2).Helps to understand root of issues
(3).Helps solve problems easily because it is easy to understand people
(4).Builds good relations/relaxed atmosphere between communicators
(5).Helps to identify sensitive issues before they grow
(6).Helps to have relevant decision making

Disadvantages Of Poor Listening
(1).Likely to pick inaccurate and incomplete information
(2).Failure to understand the root of an issue
(3).Difficult to solve people' s problems
(4).Discourages the speaker and destroys relations
(5).Can mislead in decision making
Active Listening
We tend to think of listening as a passive activity.  However, when we add the word active it implies participation and caring by the listener.  Active listening is the kind of listening in which the listener cares about the speaker’s emotions and participates in helping that speaker to express his deepest feelings freely.  The listener does not just keep quiet but he does some things or actions to encourage the speaker to be more open.

To increase your active listening skills and become a good listener, the following guidelines can prove helpful:
(1).Concentrate on what a person is saying rather than on how he looks
(2).Repeat the key ideas to yourself
(3).Relate the speakers points to your environment and experience
(4).Maintain good eye contact – focus your full attention on the speaker and put down any distracters like newspapers, etc
(5).Sit and act attentively – for those minutes act as if nothing else matters in the world except the speaker you are listening to, raise your eyebrows, nod your head in agreement, smile or laugh when appropriate
(6).Do not interrupt when the other person is talking – allow him to  express his thoughts completely before giving your views
(7).Create a free and relaxed environment for the talker – be patient and encourage him to speak instead of putting him down. For example, say to him/her  “this sounds interesting, tell me more about it”
(8).Empathise with your speaker – try to see his problem through his eyes, try to experience the same feelings he is going through, put yourself in his/her situation so you can objectively assist him
(9).Control your emotions as you listen – if the speaker is angry do not add on top of this anger
(10).Show your interest practically by asking well-phrased questions and paraphrasing what s/he is speaking e.g “Did you say the supervisor insulted you in front of the customers..?”

Total Body Listening
This is an active listening behaviour in which you use every part of your body to show the speaker that you are listening. It makes the speaker feel special, valued and worthwhile. To be a good listener you have to learn and practice listening with your eyes, your head, your mouth, your hands and so on.
(1).Listening with your eyes. By looking at the speaker and not moving your eyes here and there across the room when the other person is talking to you shows you care about what that person is saying.
(2).Listening with your head. By nodding your head you can show you understand and that you are following up on what s/he is saying.
(3).Listening with your mouth. By smiling you can show you are enjoying the speaker’s words.
(4).Listening with your hands. By your thumbs-up you can mean agreement. By not playing with things in your hands while listening to somebody you will show them you are taking them serious.
(5).Listening with your body posture. By leaning forward toward the speaker you will be showing a sign of interest and involvement in what the speaker is saying.

You cannot avoid speaking before an audience as a student and especially in business contexts. Whether you like it or not, one day you will be asked to speak before an audience to present something to either your colleagues or to management.

Definition Of Oral Presentation
An oral presentation is a process of speaking to a person or a group of people in a structured environment for the purpose of informing, influencing or entertaining. An oral presentation gives you an opportunity to display your knowledge on a particular topic whether that topic is your own choice or whether it has been chosen for you.

Process Of Oral Presentation
The whole process of an oral presentation (such as a speech) has two major stages with several tasks to be undertaken.

Preparation Stage:
Careful planning is essential for a successful oral presentation. The better you prepare in advance the more confidence you will have on the stage. Preparing an effective oral presentation involves about seven essential considerations to keep in mind:
(a). Determining the purpose of your presentation. Is it informing, instructing, persuading or entertaining?
(b). Analysing the audience of your presentation. Are they fellow workers, bosses or a mixture? Are they familiar with you or are they perfect strangers?
(c). Choosing the main ideas of the presentation. What is the most important information? What should you include and what should you leave out?
(d).Researching your topic thoroughly. Is it about facts or fiction? What are the sources of your content material?
(e). Organising data and writing a draft of your presentation. Does the introduction give the background information and indicate the direction of your presentation? Does the body discuss your purpose clearly? Does your conclusion summarise and put the last emphasis on what you want your listeners to remember?
(f). Planning visual aids (if needed). When and how should you use them? Which visual aids will actually enhance visual quality and interpretation?
(g). Rehearsing the talk and revising where necessary. Act as if you are in front of a live audience and practice using all the important hints used for real speech delivery.

Delivery Stage
When making an Oral presentation it is important to think of information needs that your audience may wish to know and be sure to satisfy those needs in your presentation.

One good way to test whether your message is complete is to use the WH-questions (sometimes called “journalistic approach”). Check if your message answers: WHAT, WHO, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW? as appropriate to the type of message you are going to present.

During your oral presentation remember the following suggestions:
Look around the room to your audience as you start;deliver your presentation with a positive attitude; believe you have prepared yourself thoroughly (to boost your confidence to an acceptable level); pay attention to the chairperson’s instructions; speak clearly and loudly (so listeners do not miss your words); pause between points to allow the points to sink into your listener’s minds; glance around on your audience (establish eye contact) to assess the reaction of your listeners (taking them as a group and not looking at them individually in their eyes as that may trigger fear inside of you); Use transitional phrases to lead your listeners from one section of your presentation to the other (e.g. let us now move to the next point….); avoid long sentences and unusual words; time yourself and finish your presentation within your allocated time; apply appropriate non-verbals to complement your spoken content; involve your audience and respond to your audience’s arguments and questions.

Prepare For A Question And Answer Session
Brief, prompt answers should be ready for the audience after your presentation. This means once you are through with your presentation it is good to provide a time for questions and and answers. Make sure you do not leave the question and answer session to chance, but prepare for it. Spend time preparing for questions that are likely to come from your listeners and have ready ready answers.

Some pieces of advice that will help you during the question and answer session include the following:
(1). Focus on the questioner- be an active listener, focus your attention on the questioner, pay attention to his/her body language, nod your head to acknowledge the question, repeat the question to confirm your understanding of the question and to ensure the entire audience has understood it, ask for clarification if unclear, etc
(2). Respond appropriately -Be sure to answer the question asked. Use the time you have to answer the question or otherwise offer to discuss it after your presentation. Be honest and do not ignore, laugh a question off or forget a question
(3). Maintain control – Establish a time limit for questions or  establish a question limit per person. Give as many audience members as possible a chance to participate and avoid allowing only one or two people to dominate unless there is an agreement from all.
(4). Be cool -Sometimes you may be asked tough questions. Answer the question the best you can, be honest and try not to show your feelings of embarassment, anger or frustration. Do not resort to insults. Break long complicated questions into manageable parts that you can answer simply.
(5). Encourage questions -listeners who are deadly quiet can be as uncomfortable as noisy, hostile audiences. You might ask them a question yourself “ Would you like to know more about......?” If someone in the audiences answers, then go ahead and explain.
(6).Conclude your presentation – When time is over stop the question and answer session. It is good to prepare the audience by interjecting words like “Our time is almost up. Let us have one more question”. Summarize the main idea of your presentation and thank people for their attention. Conclude the way you opened, by looking around the room and making eye contact. Then gather your notes and leave the stage, maintaining your confident demeanor you have had from the beginning.

Parts Of An Oral Presentation
The Oral presentation has three parts namely the beginning, the middle and the end. Plan out in advance what you will do in those three parts.
(a).The beginning. This is ideal for getting attention of your listeners. It can be done through a short story, a simple demonstration, previewing important issues in the presentation, et cetera. The aim is to arrest the attention of your listeners
(b).The middle. This is for making your point clear. Remember to do what is suggested in the delivery stage above.
(c).The end. This is for finishing with impact. This may be done in different ways such as by summarizing the main points of your presentation, by calling for an action from your listeners, et cetera.

Types Of Oral Presentations
There are generally two types of oral presentations:
(1).Planned presentation: planned speaking or presentation means the speaker was informed earlier on and had time to prepare for the presentation.
(2). Unplanned presentation: this is a presentation when the speaker did not know that he or she would speak as a result he does not have prior preparation. In this type of presentation the speaker organises his thoughts quickly as he speaks drawing on his experience of the subject matter.

Indeed all reading adds knowledge to the reader. However, people may choose to read text materials for one of two reasons, either for study or pleasure. As students you are supposed to know the academic reading in order to use the knowledge to meet your classroom requirements. After your studies, you will need to continue reading for your personal pleasure and  personal education to improve your work and life skills. Let us briefly discuss these  types of reading.

Reading For Study Purpose
This is reading for meeting academic requirements. It is serious reading meant for tackling a certain comprehension exercise.  You read in order to meet requirements for your assignments, tests, exams, et cetera. Reading for study (or academic) purposes demands that you read carefully so as to understand the material assigned to you in a particular passage and perhaps get prepared to answer related questions.
Of course, understanding depends on the language level you are in. Your language level will determine how you interpret some words and phrases in the reading material as well as understanding the use of some particular words and phrases. If you fail to understand some words or phrases in the passage try to guess the meanings of those words and phrases based on the context of the passage. Such intelligent guessing is important because no one will be able to understand all the words of a particular language during one’s lifetime. Actually, we do this intelligent guessing of the meanings of words and phrases all the time as we do not have time and opportunity to check the meanings of each word in a dictionary whenever we encounter it in our discussions or readings.  Of course, we have to check meanings in a dictionary if the words we do not know are key words (that is, important words carrying the meaning of the passage).

Practical Advice On How To Read For A Comprehension Exercise
This involves reading the passage and the questions twice alternatively  (R-PQPQ) as follows:
(1). Read the passage to get the general idea of that passage
(2). Read the questions to get the idea of the nature of the questions
(3). Read the passage again carefully trying to sense the answers to the questions you have just read
(4). Read the questions again while providing the answers from the passage

Types Of Study Reading Materials
The reading materials for study purposes may be divided into:-
(a).Essential reading:  Where the teacher is taking his material; often the text book s/he is using
(b).Recommended reading: to give a wider understanding and add on the class text book
(c).Optional reading: for reading further if time is available.

Reading For Personal Knowledge And Pleasure
The second type of reading is for personal education, knowledge and enjoyment.  It is light reading that has no test or exam but is guided by personal goals of increasing  one's personal knowledge or leisure. For such reading we select topics that interest us (as opposed to academic reading in which you are forced to read what you like and what you do not like). For example we might prefer:
(a).Science fiction
(b).Newspapers with certain philosophies e.g. sport, features, finance, etc
(c).Journals that relate to our profession because we want to be up to date in terms of trends and research.

Factors For Selecting Reading For Personal Knowledge and Pleasure
There are certain things that guide or determine why readers choose certain materials for reading for personal knowledge and enjoyment including the following:
(a). Language level (People choose to read materials that they can understand. The advice is to choose materials whose level is at your competence level or slightly above your level of competence to challenge yourself. So peruse the book before you borrow it to avoid taking a book far higher than your language level or too low).
(b). The author (you have read other books by him and liked him).
(c). The title (catching your eyes).
(d). Cover design (picture, et cetera).
(e). Book size (small or big).
(f). Recommendation by a friend who read a certain book (and you got interested to read it yourself)

Reading for personal knowledge and enjoyment is also important. Your career growth partly depends on how you will be continuously improving yourself through reading for personal education and self-edification.

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