The danger of two-way monologues

The always interesting Todd Defren published a quick but thought-provoking post yesterday. It’s a short read so rather than recap it I’ll wait while you click over and read it.

*whistling the Girl From Ipanema

Ok, you’re back? Groovy.

As you might have read in the comments section, I think Todd’s post raises an interesting question about the nature of the relationship between speaker and audience. My good buddy Ryan has a great theatre analogy- for a theatre company to survive, it needs an audience far more than it needs actors, technicians and PR flacks.

As the ability to create and publish content has become readily available, more and more people have become speakers. This is not a bad thing, in and of itself. But the potential is there to throw the speaker-audience ratio out of whack.

If everyone is speaking, who is listening?

“Ah, but Joe,” I assume you’re now thinking. “The roles need not be mutually exclusive. One can be both speaker and audience, no?”

Yes, disembodied-and-hypothetical voice. In fact, the  best speakers are usually the best listeners too. However, there’s a difference between listening and waiting for a chance to speak. It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to teh interwebz. You’ve all been at a party with that guy. The one spinning the straw in his drink just waiting for a break in the conversation so he can riff on whatever key word triggered his anecdote du jour.

A few years ago I was introduced to the work of a cool Norweigan songwriter named Sondre Lerche (fun fact, a few months ago he was on CBC Radio’s Q on the same day as Super Dave Osborne. The latter spent far too long making fun of Lerche’s name). He has a tune called Two-Way Monologue. I think the title alone perfectly captures this phenomenon.

If you want to be a good speaker, take the time to listen. Really listen. Read other people’s blogs. Read old media too. Listen when people talk at conferences and events – and not just the people at the podium.

Don’t mistake two-way monologues for real conversations.

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