Listening to Yourself

DeathtoStock_Creative Community8SmallAuthor Joy Engelsman

Speakers want to be listened to. We speak to others because we believe we have a message worth sharing. But when was the last time we listened to ourselves?

In preparation for an upcoming presentation, I asked my coach to listen to a previous speech and offer his critique. He gave me honest feedback on what he heard, then he said, “Now you listen to it yourself.”

Like most people, I HATE listening to recordings of myself speaking! So it was a difficult assignment to play back the speech and listen to my own voice as others hear it. Thankfully, I discovered that—like any painful exercise suggested by a coach—it had its rewards. Listening to myself helped me honestly evaluate the pace, tone and content of my speech by answering three important questions.

Do I speak at a comfortable pace?

When we evaluate our presentations in written form, it’s hard to tell how fast or slowly we plan to speak. But listening to a recording helps us hear the pacing that the audience hears.

I come from a family of “fast-talkers.” Unfortunately, that trait has slipped into my public speaking. By listening to the recording, I learned that I was talking so fast that I didn’t allow the audience time to absorb or take any notes. My words made sense to me as the speaker, but it all blurred together when I became the listener.

Other speakers learn from listening to themselves that they are plodding along too slowly, encouraging their audience to drift and daydream.

What do you learn about pace when you listen to yourself? Does your audience have to run to keep up or are they wishing you’d pick up the pace?

Do I sound like I intend to sound?

When listening to a recording of themselves, most people say, “That doesn’t sound anything like me!” But we need to face the truth: a recording more accurately represents what the audience hears.

I was surprised how formal and precise my own voice sounded on the recording. Every syllable is clearly articulated, every final consonant well pronounced. Yes, it’s a clear voice, but as I listen to a whole talk, I feel scolded by that clipped, strict voice coming out of the speakers. It was not the warm engaging sound I intended and not what I heard in my own head. But, unfortunately, it was the lecturing tone that my audience heard during that speech. Now that I’m more aware, the next audience will hear a voice that is still clear, but conveys more care and warmth.

What does your audience feel when they hear you speak? Does your vocal tone convey your intended sound?

Do I say what I mean to say?

Whether we script our presentations or work from an outline, most of us don’t plan each word exactly. We add and subtract along the way, sticking with our objective, but working in the moment.

My coach commented that I made reference to a specific topic too many times. I thought he was exaggerating because there were only three mentions of that topic in my notes. After dutifully listening to the recording, I was shocked to hear repeated references to that topic. In the moment, I had taken the audience on bunny trails that didn’t add to the overall objective.

What does your audience hear when you speak extemporaneously? Do you say what you mean to say? How will you know unless you listen to yourself?

Take my coach’s challenge and push play on a recent recording of your own presentations. You might learn—as I did—that the awkwardness of listening to your own voice is rewarded with valuable lessons about pace, tone and content.


Joy has been part of the DCI family for 20 years. She teaches preaching at Denver Seminary, writes on communication and worship, and serves as a part-time Chaplain for a hospice in Denver. Joy and her husband Bob enjoy living in Denver with their two teenage daughters.

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