Chapter 2: Audience Analysis and Effective Listening

Barriers to Listening

Now that you have a better understanding of the types and styles of listening we will now discuss the barriers to listening. A barrier to listening is anything that is physically or philologically hindering you from recognizing, understanding, and accurately interpreting the message that you are receiving. We’ll discuss five different barriers to effective listening: Information overload, personal concerns or issues, outside distractions, prejudice, and rate of speech and thought. When you have a better understanding of the potential barriers to effective listening you can pinpoint where your weaknesses are and work on building them up to make you a better listener.

Information Overload

Seventy percent of our waking time is spent in some sort of communication situation. Of that seventy percent, forty-five percent of that time is spent listening. With all we have to listen to, there are going to be times where we experience information overload . Information overload is when you have so much information coming at you; it’s easy to become overwhelmed. In a public speaking class you can experience this when listening to your fellow classmates give speeches– especially if you’re hearing 20 speeches one after the other. You become overwhelmed and you’ll probably find yourself tuning out at some point. Or what if a speaker condenses so many statistics into the presentation that you cannot keep track of all the numbers? That’s information overload.

Personal Concerns

Let’s face it, you have a lot going on in your life. You attend school, you probably work, you might be raising a family, and you have your own personal issues to work through every day. Sometimes when we are absorbed in our own thoughts and concerns, we can’t focus on what someone else is saying. Your role as an audience member is to listen to what the speaker is saying. If you find yourself focusing on your own upcoming speech rather than listening to your classmates, you’re allowing your personal concerns to distract you. Or perhaps you are worried about something happening at work or home. When you allow those worries to take your focus, you will often find that you become a less effective listener.

Outside Distraction

Classroom doors slamming, cell phones ringing, students having conversations outside in the hall are all examples of outside distractions. It is your job to check out the speaking situations before you present. That way you expect some of the above mentioned outside distractions. If you have a good idea of what to expect, you can adjust your volume, pace, pitch, and tone of your speech. If you are an audience member you can move to another seat, close the door, and do whatever is necessary to minimize the distractions.


Sometimes you might have a hard time listening because you do not agree with the speaker. We, as humans, have a tendency to be closed- minded at times. If you have an emotional reaction to a speaker or you disagree with his/her ideas on a personal level, you might allow personal prejudices to distract you. Keep an open mind. While you may not agree with the speaker, his or her message may be valid. You’ll never know unless you hear them out.

Rate of Speech and Thought

Most people speak at a rate of 125 words per minute. As a listener you are able to filter 700 words a minute. If we can process so many more words than we actually hear, a mental lag can occur. Eventually you’ll stop listening or you’ll find yourself drifting in and out. It might be to your benefit to mentally summarize the speaker’s ideas from time to time to keep yourself engaged.

Thus, listening well is just as important as speaking well. The two go hand in hand.


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Fundamentals of Public Speaking Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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