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When Do People Stop Listening?

When the speaker (the performer) breaks or interrupts the natural pattern that the listening brain expects, we cause an interruption in the listening process. We push the listener out of the loop. The listening brain can then do one of two things. It can stop listening, or it can ponder the moment of interruption, try and pick up the pieces again, and then go on listening. Either way, you’ve lost the listener. One for good, the other detached for a second. In a normal communication environment the lost or detached listener will often interrupt you to ask you to repeat yourself or to slow you down, so that they can catch up. However, when you are up on the stage or in front of the camera or microphone, they can’t do this. You can’t do it. And as you go on speaking you will begin to lose their attention. Too many such interruptions, and they will stop listening altogether. And if they stop listening, what is the point of continuing with the play, with the show or with what you have to say? To get your curtain call? To be important? To fill up time? If so, what a lame bunch of reasons!  

And just so that you know – this is one of the main pointers I rely on when working with performers. I know that if I have stopped listening, it is because the performer is no longer using a natural speech pattern, is no longer thinking, is probably reciting text, and probably wants me to watch him / her rather than the play or the show they are presenting. 

© Donald Woodburn

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