So I am sitting at a conference, watching the other attendees, fascinated at all the other activity going on. Yes, there are a few people sitting, listening and taking noted. But there are many more people who have come well-equipped to do other things. A few still bring books and newspapers, but many more do their reading on a phone, tablet or laptop. One person is preparing slides for a presentation. Another is catching up on email. Of course, some are scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed. Some have brought their breakfast with them. There is plenty of texting going on. Me? I admit, I was doodling on the back of the conference agenda as I listened.
It’s tough to listen. It’s tough to just it there and listen. It is hard, hard work. Which puzzles me a little. I have two ears that hear naturally, involuntarily receiving lots of sounds. But it is still hard to listen.
That got me thinking, when I was supposed to be listening, about those who listen to me preach each week. I can’t see everything everyone is doing, but I know there’s a lot going on. There are people on their phones, and I know they aren’t all using their Bible apps to follow along with the sermon text. I see a few of the weekly church newsletters in people’s hands — well, at least they will know about upcoming events. The congregation always includes a few note-takers, snackers, dozers, draw-ers, sneezers, whisperers, and nose-blowers. Some need to visit the bathroom, a few need a drink, a couple have to go back to the car to get their glasses, and who can help but watch the babies?
I know it’s different. I only have to keep their attention and they only have to keep their focus for fifteen to twenty minutes. But whether it’s a scheduled hour-long presentation or a blessedly-brief twelve minute homily, I believe there is a shared burden by both speaker and listener for effective communication.
For the speaker at the conference (or in church):
- Do not read your powerpoint slides to me. I can read them myself, thank you very much.
- Tell me stories, get me to laugh, paint some word pictures and engage my attention before you get to the weightier part of your presentation.
- Make sure you haves a point. At some moment, give me something that will stick in my mind. It can be a phrase, a 140 character summary, a slogan, something to take with me.
For the listeners at a conference (or in church):
- Don’t bring a diversion. Instead, come prepared to listen.
- Take notes. Write down a few words, a phrase, a summary, something you can take with you.
- Visit the facilities before the speaker begins.
- Commit to giving the speaker some kind of useful feedback. By useful, I mean beyond the generic, “Thanks, I enjoyed that.”
I do not offer the above advice as an expert speaker or listener, just as someone who wants to learn to do both better.