Executive speaking and listening

In addition to planning and control, in important part of an executive’s job consists in expressing his ideas clearly, listening to others effectively, and participating usefully in group deliberations. Many executives, while paying a good deal of attention to the technical part of their work, tend to ignore these very important aspects. It has been said that as an executive rises to higher positions, his technical skills become of less importance to him, because there are others to do those jobs. He has now to exercise more of the communication skills in which his ability to explain to others, to listen to them, and to bring them together in joint decisions assumes great importance.

Most of us are good speakers, poor listeners and poorer committee men. Too often, executives talk at length and away from the subject; they do not listen to others and either interrupt them or wait with visible impatience to make their own point and the committees in which they participate take too much time and are often infructuous.


We are not concerned here with oratory, but only with speaking. In which there is no distinction between talking to one or two persons or to a group. The purpose should be to communicate effectively and well. The common faults are:

a) Awkward or slovenly manner
b) Too many or too few gestures
c) Not looking at people as you speak
d) Volume too low or too high
e) Speed too fast or too slow
f) Lack of clearness and of emphasis
g) Verbosity or lack of necessary command of language
h) Long sentences with too many subordinate clauses
i) Too many clichés, expletives etc
j) Poor organization.

You can improve by paying attention to the following:

a) Knowing what you are going to speak about.
b) Being brief and to the point.
c) Talking to people instead of talking at them
d) Using natural gestures
e) Speaking at normal speed.
f) Using short sentences, without too many subordinate clauses
g) Using humor occasionally.

A few Hints:

Speed is of importance. 300 to 320 words per minute is, perhaps, a good speed. The words per minute more or less, can make a great difference.

Volume should be correct for the room, so that your voice carries evenly all over. It should be varied occasionally to avoid monotony.

Gestures should be easy, for they are a natural part of communication.

Sentences should be short, of about 20 to 25 words. Subordinates clauses should, as far as possible be avoided. Long involved periodical sentences tax the listeners, and can interfere with their ability to follow your argument.

The attention of the audience should be held and personal contact maintained by your looking directly at people not over them, away from them, or at the ground.

Listeners can have emotional blocks one word from you may do that, and a listener may switch off hearing completely, so avoid sarcasm or criticism of your audience.

If you use words which are likely to have different connotations, or are likely to be misunderstood, define them.

It is important to keep within the time to you or you have set for yourself.

Avoid vocalized pauses: Do not begin by apologizing, particularly where, the apology is self conscious, immodest or irrelevant.

Reading a speech:

Reading is not an easy method of communicating but there are occasions when it may be necessary. It is then better not to read your script verbatim, but as far as possible read from it only occasionally. If a copy is made, it should be in double space. On your own copy do not use punctuation marks, but make vertical lines for pauses. A compromise between speaking without notes and reading a written speech is to have a note of points and sub-points with a short explanatory sentence or two on each point.

Asking and Answering Questions:

Both sides have a responsibility, those who put the question, and the speaker who answers them. The questions should be framed very carefully and expressed clearly. It is important also, to ask questions and to make comments without creating any tension; many people unwittingly do that.

For the person answering, it may be a good thing to repeat the question so that everyone it clearly. It should be answered directly and unevasively. He should avoid being evasive, or guess the answer. People immediately sense it. It is best to be perfectly honest and say “I do not know I cannot answer that question”.