Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”Have you ever finished speaking and wished you had spent more time listening than speaking?

Communication is never simple, but it’s not an impossible task. Good communication does demand constant evaluation, such as whether or not a connection has been made between the source (that’s you) and the receiver (your audience). Here are some common problems in communication–and what to do about them!

1. Use Simple Terms.

Words can actually hamper your communication effort. Every generation develops its own vocabulary, and many disciplines have their own lingo. In a writing tips article by Mark Nichol, he observed that the average American adult reads at a ninth-grade level. That being the case, a speech intended to impress a post graduate audience is, for the most part, sailing over their head like a paper airplane. Use a common language.

2. Know Your Audience.

People come from different backgrounds—social, ethnic, racial, and educational. The audience’s background directly affects its ability to listen and learn. Hearers will filter everything you say through the “grid” of their experience. That’s why it’s important to know your audience. Understand who they are, where they’ve been, and where they are now. You can increase your impact by reducing the “static” of your message as it passes through the grid of your hearers.

3. Keep It Brief.

The average attention span for an adult is between 9 and 11 minutes. Listeners often “change channels” when listening to a speaker, letting their minds wander to other matters. Give them something to listen for. Vary your pitch, rate, and volume. Use humor. Use pauses. Repeat with emphasis. Help your listeners stay tuned.

4. Relate to Felt Needs.

Your listeners may arrive with an arm load of “Samsonite”—personal baggage that affects the way they listen. Every group of people includes those who are working through personal problems such as marital conflict, chronic illness, or job stress. Reduce the effect of listener baggage by being attuned to visual cues from the audience. Read body language. Watch facial expressions. Evaluate the effect that your words are having on the audience. If your message is not getting through, regroup mentally and take a different approach. Be sensitive to the life-situation of your listeners.

5. Anticipate Objections.

Audiences are more suspicious than they have ever been and, in many cases, rightly so. Some listeners have been disillusioned or disappointed by politicians and even religious leaders. As a result, they’re on the lookout for character and integrity flaws in those who communicate with them. Break through that tough exterior by being genuine. Be appropriately self-revealing when you speak. Avoid making yourself the hero of every story. Be honest about yourself without running yourself down. When the audience trusts you, it will listen to you.

Communication is always challenging—never more so than today. But speaking is still a powerful way to communicate with people. Master these skills, and you will be heard! Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

— Stan Toler