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Six Preparation Tips for Empathetic Listening and Effective Presentations

Empathy is one of the seven bones in the FINESSE cause and effect diagram. High complexity and uncertainty requires empathetic listening from the communication sender.
Empathy is one of the seven bones in the FINESSE cause and effect diagram for effective communication..

Becoming an effective presenter requires empathetic listening that allows you to connect with others, understand their emotions and perspectives, and respond in a helpful way. This article provides six preparation tips for preparing and delivering your next big presentation.

Empathy Is Heavy

Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another in either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner (Merriman-Webster).

So, empathy is an action (verb). It involves vicariously experiencing another person but not having had the specific experiences the other person has had. That’s heavy.

Empathy is both a learned skill and a natural ability. Cultivating empathy requires active effort and practice. On the other hand, my dog reminds me every day when I come home that he somehow relates to how I feel without being me or knowing what I do when I am away.

Empathy is Required for Effective Communication

Linear communication is the most basic of the three major communication concepts. Linear communication requires a message, a sender, and a receiver. The burden of effective communication in a linear model is on the sender, not the receiver.

Most of our communication to senior management or any decision maker is linear. We work for them, they beckon us when they need our specialized input, and they tell us when to leave (feedback and follow-up rest in their hands).

Being an effective communicator requires us to have empathy for them. We must put ourselves in their shoes. And their shoes, not ours, are all that matters in their decision making. Empathy is hard.

Preparation Tips for Empathetic Listening

These are a few tips from Daniel Hudson on becoming an empathetic listener, with a few of my observations.

1. Clear your mind

Most of us carry performance shaping factors (PSFs)—aspects of behavior and context that impact human performance – with us from other aspects of work and home. The best empathetic listeners I work with have developed a specific technique they use for clearing their minds.

2. Think about how you feel

I actually prefer to write down how I feel about a topic as part of presentation preparation. I then jot down counterpoints to remind myself that I should be able to argue both sides of any topic.

3. Think about what you are getting ready to display (personally or in writing)

This one takes discipline and structure. For presentation, practice in front of a camera as someone asks you off-the-wall questions to pick up any negative facial or physical reactions that you have. Like clearing your mind, the best presenters usually have a go-to technique when they are on stage,

4. Consider how you should feel

Remember, it is not how you feel but rather how the receiver (decision maker) feels.

5. Keep tabs on those feelings as you listen

Reminding yourself that you are not the decision maker is continually important. If this reminder does not work, then remind yourself that you do not control the timing of how your presentation is used.