Feedback While Speaking

Learning Objectives

Describe types of nonverbal and verbal feedback.

Nonverbal feedback

Imagine yourself speaking to a group of people who have their eyes closed, arms crossed across their chest, and legs crossed. What would this communicate to you, the speaker? You might interpret this behavior to mean the audience is not interested in your presentation. You might interpret this as a form of listening for that group. The important point is that you, the speaker, will interpret these behaviors to mean something.

Let’s take the same scenario with an audience who is looking at you, sitting up straight, and has their arms open on the table or in front of them. What does that mean to you? Some would think that the audience is very interested in what you have to say. These behaviors might even encourage the speaker while some might think that the audience is aggressive and too forward, which makes the speaker feel uncomfortable. Again, the person presenting will think that these behaviors mean something.

Nonverbal communication is meaning making without using words. It is a part of a communication event that often goes unnoticed on the conscious level, yet is integral to the event. Every person will scan the other person for cues while listening. These cues are helpful in knowing if a person is really listening to you. In fact, nonverbal behaviors are tied to speaking in every culture. For example, in a business meeting in the United States, a speaker might know that people who engage in eye contact, sit forward, or take notes are actively listening. In the same business meeting in Japan, the speaker has different cues that let them know the attendees are listening. The listeners may look at the table and lean back or sit back with their eyes closed; this indicates they are listening using their cultural, nonverbal feedback.

As a speaker, it is important to pay attention to what nonverbal behaviors the audience is exhibiting. As a listener, it is really important to consider what type of nonverbal feedback you are giving to the communicator.

To show you are actively listening, you want to consider what behaviors in your culture are considered affirming. For many in the United States, sitting forward, nodding one’s head, and looking directly at the speaker are cues that tell the speaker the person is listening. So, you as an active listener will want to employ these affirmative cues to signal you are paying attention. A word of warning—it is important to not give off too many cues as this could be confusing. It is best to keep it simple and provide signals that are clearly positive.

Since the world is getting smaller through the use of technology, it is also important for a listener to research what types of nonverbal communication are used by a group different from their own. When listening, you want to make sure that you are providing appropriate and affirming nonverbal signals to the speaker. This behavior will go a long way toward building positive relationships with the communicator.

Verbal Feedback

Verbal feedback means just what you would think—to provide feedback to another using words. Verbal feedback also refers to verbal utterances, such as “uh-huh,” sighing, and so on.

Utterances like nonverbal feedback are often not thought of consciously. All of us have attended a speech where people verbalize to the speaker. You may hear “aw” when someone understands something or thinks it’s cute. You may hear “huh?” when a point is not clear. These verbalizations are sometimes loud and the presenters hears these and sometimes they are very quiet where only the people sitting around them hear the sound.

This verbal feedback tells the speaker a lot about what is happening in the audience. It helps to gauge the level of engagement. A loud sigh might mean someone is bored. A laugh may mean that the joke told was truly funny and worked. A clicking sound may mean that the person finds the subject upsetting. Whatever the sound may be, a presenter is sensitive to the utterances and monitors the sounds to note how well, or poorly, the speech is going.

As with all communication, utterances are also culturally specific. There are some cultures where a “call and response” is expected when speaking. This means that the audience will verbally respond to what is said either using utterances or words. For example, if a speaker says to the audience, “good morning,” some audiences will not respond and sit quietly while other audiences will return a “good morning” in chorus. There are other moments in the speech where those who engage in “call and response” will state agreement or disagreement to a point. The speaker might hear “yes” or “uh-huh” loudly or they might hear “nope” or a negative utterance. The presenter is not expected to address that specific call. They are to continue to deliver their speech with appropriate pauses that allow for the audience to interact verbally.

Thus, just like nonverbal feedback, verbal feedback allows the presenter to know what is happening with the audience. The speaker can then adjust to what they are learning from their audience.

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