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You’re In Trouble (when the audience stops listening)

When you break the rules of listening, your audience will give you about 40 seconds. After that they will begin to allow their minds to wonder onto their own thoughts which are correctly structured and easy to follow. When you break the rules of listening you make it too hard for the audience to follow and unless they are desperate to hear what you have to say they will lose interest, lose focus and begin to distract others around them!  

And when the audience stops listening is when your problems really start. Firstly you may just become a shrinking violet and fall apart. Or you may go on without noticing and bore them until they are all comatose. But most likely you will try to win them back. And this is where you will often make it worse by simply amplifying or exaggerating what it is that you are already doing wrong. You will probably feel them pull away and as you begin to panic you will probably begin to project, push and speak more loudly with your voice to try and win them back. If you are lucky this will either shock them into silence for another 40 seconds until they get bored again, or it will simply push them further out of the loop as we do not like being shouted at.  

And then when you don’t win them back, you will probably raise your volume further out of desperation just to try to beat them into submission. You will begin emphasising more and more wrong words, over and over again, to try to make it sound like you are ‘working the role or the thoughts’ and so to impress them with your effort and energy.  But shouting for hours on end is not impressive. It’s loudly monotonous! And they won’t fall for it. And when they don’t fall for it you will more than likely dig yourself in a little deeper, beating away relentlessly at your volume and the script, tiring the audience into submission. And when the house lights come up they will happily rush for the door. 

And in pushing your volume and emphasising too much, you will begin to tire your own vocal instrument. You will put pressure on your vocal chords and you will tire your breathing musculature. You will need to spend more and more energy just to breathe, just to think, just to make sound, just to keep the play moving. And this will in turn take energy away from your performance and your focua. And so you will begin to push even harder. And by the end of the evening or the show your voice may well be sore and you may well be tired! Guess what? You are on the way to playing to empty houses, closing the play before the end of its run, to making the viewer switch channels, to losing your job and to developing vocal nodules!

None of this is pretty. So stop breaking the rules of listening!

© Donald Woodburn

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