In response to our article on the ways in which listeners rely on both visual and auditory cues to make meaning, one reader wrote, "The number one problem that I have with most speakers today is that I cannot hear them."

That is a problem—a very big one. No message can be comprehended if it cannot be physically heard.

While listening is a cognitive, intellectual process, hearing is physical and at the mercy of all sorts of physical interferences.


Our respondent noted that many people "have not been trained in public speaking and even in meetings, where there is no formal presentation, they do not speak loudly enough to be heard by the entire table. There is always ambient noise of some kind—the air conditioning, the lights, construction outside."

Always. And although speakers may not be conscious of such noise, they can remain aware that it probably exists in some areas of a room and increase their volume to overcome such likely interference.

Our writer also pointed out that "It is very tiring to have to strain to hear what is being said." The strain may become so tiring, in fact, that frustration and indifference displace the attention that audience members try to maintain.

To guard against such a consequence, project your voice so it can be heard around the room or conference table. Maintaining eye focus will help; your voice will follow your eyes, directing your comments up and out rather than down toward the floor or into some vacant corner of the room.


Eye focus can also alert you to the audience's ability to hear if you use it to notice what messages people may be sending through their body language. If many audience members are leaning forward, it may well be "that they are straining to hear clearly," our respondent wrote. Pump up the volume and use pace and emphasis to regain attention.


If a microphone is available, use it. Even if you ask the audience whether they can hear you without it, chances are great that you'll miss the signals of those who cannot hear you. Don't ask. Just use the microphone.

Use it properly. A future Speak Previews will discuss in more detail what "properly" means, but for now remember that various kinds of equipment make varying demands on the speaker. Know how the microphone works—especially how to switch it off and on. Speak over or across the microphone, not into it, to prevent distortion. Follow the advice of the sound engineer regarding placement of a lavaliere mic on your body or where to position yourself for a lectern mic; create an opportunity for a sound check, especially if no technical assistance is available.


One of the ways a speaker persuades an audience is through ethos or credibility, the sense of trust listeners form and place on the speaker. If they cannot hear you easily, you lose credibility not only because you are nearly inaudible but because they may perceive that your delivery lacks the necessary respect and authority. As our respondent said, when "speakers make the audience work too hard to hear the message, both the message and the audience are lost."

And so, we add, is the speaker.