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How Do People Listen (and how do they want to hear you?)

Naturally. Using their ears. In the same way that they grew up listening. In the same way that they listen all day to the people around them. With ease. They listen with ease to the familiar sounds, rhythm, pitch, pace, volume, word order, thought structure and so on that they receive. Not by bending their ears around the strangely emphasised and strangely shaped words and rhythms of formal or badly presented speech.  

You see, in real life we use natural pitch, pace, volume, emphasis, phrasing and so on. And over the years the human brain has been tuned in to the natural speech patterns it hears. And so it is programmed to expect to hear in exactly this manner. (The way we normally talk becomes the way our societies listen and comprehend.) They listen for the sounds that they are used to in everyday life. And these they automatically and instantly process and understand. 

So when you work professionally as a speaker or communicator please don’t try to force unnecessary new sounds, rhythms and styles of speech upon people, just because you are ‘presenting’ or ‘acting’. When you break from the standard of natural informal speech your alternative speech pattern just short circuits the listener’s brain. And you should know that the listening brain is usually a little lazy and doesn’t want to have to work to listen. It wants and waits for the recognisable rhythms, sounds and impulses of your mother tongue or of natural communication so that it can do a minimal amount of thinking work. The more it hears the expected sound the more rapidly it can process, file and store what it hears. And the more quickly it does this the more easily it is able to keep up with the flow of information and to pay attention and to remain effortlessly engaged. And that’s how it should be! 

Personal Disconnection

Furthermore breaking the natural speech pattern not only pushes the listener away but it also disconnects you from your own thoughts. Because in order to achieve the ‘performance style’ or ‘new vocal pattern’, your body and minds normal impulses have to be interrupted to allow you to take an extra moment to prepare the thought differently for ‘performance’, and another to monitor the result. And as you worry about how you stand, how you move and so on, you become more and more disconnected from the original truth and the degrees of separation between you, your thoughts, the ‘style’ and your speech just keep mounting. Not to mention the divide between you and your listener. 

Each ‘alien sound’ you use becomes a barrier between you, your primal reactions and from your content. And as an actor / public speaker you really need these primal reactions to keep your presentation fresh, honest and easy to listen too. Each moment you fake is a moment the listening brain has to spend decoding, recoding and only then reacting, and so is a moment spent disengaged from you the speaker. And as the moments mount you become increasing disconnected from you text and your listener gets left further and further behind as they try to pick up and decode the pieces. 

And worse than this fake ‘presentation style’ and all of its associated problems, is when you begin to try and change the way that the little voice in your head speaks. Because to do that you have to block the instinctual information that naturally bubbles up inside you so that it doesn’t impact on your inner voice anymore. You disconnect from your natural instinctual impulse, you waste a moment to sanitise or recode the thought/sound, take another disconnected split second to now consider and think about it, and then a further second to decide to speak it. What a longwinded palaver. And what a disconnected choice! Do you really think that the expectant listener really wants you to go to all that trouble just to sound posh or clever? And do you think that the listener wants to unravel all those changes so that they can uncover the essence of what you were trying to say before you went and complicated it? I think not! 

How many seconds, moments or degrees of separation do you intend to allow to come between you and your instinctual reactions, thoughts and rhythms, and between you and the waiting ear? How many filters and layers do you wish us to view and listen to you though? What the hell is wrong with us just meeting and hearing the essential you, minus all the rubbish, minus all the layers, minus all the censorship?  

Please just let us listen to you without us having to work as decoders. Please let us just listen to you as you are, and not as you think you need to be.  

© Donald Woodburn


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