Why do we listen?(or six key themes)

Or more pertinently, why do we remember. The title of my gig at Interesting 2007 was presumptuous. My intention was to not be prescriptive but to share a bit of what I have learned working as a director, corporate workshop leader and coach.

I wanted to model how I like to work- facilitating experiential learning. I am certain that the majority of people learn most effectively through experience. What I do is deconstruct models, theory and re-present it in a practical, hopefully more creative and engaging way. Stick to what you know, always. I tried to be true to myself. The audience yesterday would be hearing a lot of fantastic speakers. I wanted to shift the dynamic and involve them, encourage  them to speak and hopefully explore why they listen though a real experience. Rather than the often misty eyed nostalgia of “I listen when…”

I wanted to try something ridiculously ambitious with an audience of 300. High risk, high reward. I wanted everyone to draw, share their images with a partner and then recall what had stayed with them from what they had heard. Minus qualification or explanation. Oh and I needed to warm them up with an exercise that democratised drawing.


Think I pulled it off . Can’t pretend I wasn’t terrified. The fantastically game audience all channeled their inner Rolf Harris by drawing at speed. I was, as well, trying to move them into immediate right brain directed territory, avoiding  the creative constipation that often appears when we begin to listen to our inner critic and judge our work too much.

How we connect to an audience is a central issue for any director. And disconnect. It is the eternal dilemma for live performance related art forms. 

I wanted to try to see that even in this crude and simplistic version of a far longer exercise, the same themes would emerge.

The things we remember tend to fall into the same categories again and again. Irrespective of audience, situation or context. Every time. They are:

  • Empathy. Emotional resonance. Material that connects on a fundamental, engaging level. We participate in their dilemma.
  • Humour. Always memorable. Real humour as opposed to token gags. It can diffuse, release,  highlight and humanise in an extraordinarily powerful way when done well.
  • Unexpected. Can be data, statistics, information, references, perspectives. Anything that avoids the formula of what they were expecting
  • Challenge. Stretches and extends our thinking. In some form.
  • Image. Really is worth 10,000 words. Stunning images yesterday that really did augment, not be, the presentations. They take us into complex, rich, emotional territories where words can often be a barrier.
  • DeliveryIf it matters to you, it matters to them” Patsy Rodenburg, Head of Voice at The National Theater. Our voice is an external reflection of our internal state. Our inflection, pace, intonation, tone and pitch change in a subtle but important way. We hear it as an audience. Those words and phrases leap out and grab us. We also hear it when they don’t care.

The challenge now is to try and remember these themes when we are shaping content. It’s all about connections.

17th June, 2007