Speaking & Listening

July 1, 2014
Whispers and Waffle


Speaking and listening are both skills that are rather taken for granted.  Poor speech and/or inability to listen well can have more impact than you might think. 

Through my transcription work, which involves listening to, interpreting and capturing the verbatim spoken word, it has become so apparent to me that a lot of what is said cannot possibly be heard and taken in properly, in the moment, by the listener - because of poor diction, fast speech, accents and waffle.

Whether it is live or recorded speech, whether a conference, presentation, speech, interview, group discussion, teleconference etc, poor elements of speaking create confusion and, more often than not, do not enable correct interpretation of what is actually being said. 

Instead, a case of Chinese Whispers is created.  Fun when it’s a game, or without consequence.  But when we are talking business, life, people and things that really matter, then it’s a different game all together.  If you hear it wrong, you digest it wrong, you pass it on wrong – and this can all then be taken as gospel, wrongly, relayed again, wrongly, and ... well, you get the picture.  Whether it’s a public platform or a private conversation, clear diction, concise word usage and good phrasing are vital to get your point across.  Otherwise, expect your listeners to potentially hear it wrong.   And be assured they will act in a manner according to what they think they have heard.   And unless the spoken word has been recorded or written down - not usually the case in casual everyday conversation – there is no recourse, it will just become a “I said, you heard” scenario.

Sometimes, when I can’t make out what is being said in a particular transcript, I might listen to one phrase, even one word, up to ten times or more, to try and work it out.  Despite high quality sound and headphones, it is often very difficult to make sense of things.  Add a bit of muffle, overtalking and/or a thick accent, and it can become impossible.  Even when the speed is slowed down manually with my equipment, it can be difficult to determine what the speaker is saying.  Speeding the speech up can actually help decipher a phrase or word on occasion.  It compresses the words and, surprisingly enough, this can enhance clarity. 

But often I will need to rely on my own knowledge of topic, familiarity with accents and dialects and capacity to really listen and interpret in order to capture the correct words.  Or else I just leave it as “inaudible” and timestamp it, an unknown piece of the equation, that no one in this world can possibly have had the pleasure of understanding, no matter how important it might have been.

So, I figure that if I can’t work out what is being said under these circumstances, then I have to wonder how the real-time listener, ears open to the same audio as it is delivered once, has any clue whatsoever.  Bottom line is that they don’t.  They simply can’t.

When you speak, use clear, even-paced diction.  Then your listeners will truly hear what you have to say.

There is also the matter of waffle.  Waffle is pointless, but all too common, especially in interview responses.   If the interviewee is not well prepared or highly knowledgeable on the topic, they can be caught on the hop and resort to engaging in long stretches of waffle words that don’t have a lot of substance.  No relevant point is made.  The speaker has gone all round the houses, and ended up nowhere.  And the listener has lost track and interest. 

Prepared speeches, presentations and deliveries generally don’t contain superfluous blither.  A well prepared interviewee will keep on track and answer the questions with responses that engage and enlighten.  We listen and we learn.

But – when listening to someone who is inadequate at speaking clearly (resulting in Chinese Whispers) and/or who does not have clear concise thoughts and opinions on the topic in question and is consequently rambling all over the place, it can be really difficult to try to determine purpose and context.  We listen, we cannot interpret and we do not learn. 

Sometimes I can listen to several minutes of speech without one single relevant point being made or answer being given.  There might be dozens of filler phrases and words being used, which get in the way of a streamlined delivery, or the speaker simply doesn’t know what it is they want to say i.e. they have been put on the spot, feel they must say something, so drivel on trying to sound like they know what they are talking about.  Really, it’s better to admit defeat and remain silent, move on to the next question.

My next blog under the Speaking and Listening topic will look at those pesky filler words and phrases and what they really mean!



The Full Moon

June 13, 2014
By the Light of the Silvery Moon


By the light of the silvery moon ...

I have formulated a practical theory around the Full Moon, based on my own observation and experience over a number of years.

Always plan a party or event to coincide with the date of the Full Moon

Why? you may ask.

Because the weather will be on best behaviour, that's why.  Naturally, good weather can happen at any time, but it is much more likely around the time of the Full Moon.

In summer the weather is generally more stable, so nice days and nights are more the norm (but not always!)  Even if it's mid-winter and the weather has been dreary, dismal or downright miserable, when a Full Moon rises into the night sky, the weather will clear and a bright calm night will follow.  The moon will do its best to shine through and clear the sky of pesky clouds, and ease the wind.  Whilst it is impossible to control cyclones or hurricanes or once in a blue moon weather troubles, the best of the weather, summer or winter, will coincide with the Full Moon. 

Think about it – you can always see a Full Moon in the sky.  It is visible in all its glory, shining brightly into the darkness below, right across the world - a natural torch, lighting the way for you, wherever you are.

How often have you marvelled at the sight of a Full Moon in a clear inky cloudless sky?  How often have you commented about what a fabulous sight it is, what a bright and glorious evening it is?  Quite often, I would imagine, unless you don’t venture out much at night.

Time and time again, the Full Moon brings with it a perfect evening.  Some years ago, since noticing this pattern and correlation, I began to research my theory in a more formal way.  I set up a spreadsheet, noting all the dates of the Full Moon and at exactly what time it was destined to peak, so to speak i.e. when it is at its most full.  This may not necessarily be in the dark of night, it might be mid-afternoon, or early morning. The night that is nearest to the peak is the one that will offer the best weather – but it likely you’ll get a double dose of two great nights in a row.

Each month - for 30 months now - I have observed the weather as the Full Moon comes round, made detailed notes, recorded the results.  Only once (May 2013) have I recorded a “NO” when my theory let me down.  There are three occasions when “OK” is recorded.  But all the rest are a big “YES”, with adjectives like “brilliant”, “stunning” and “perfect” noted alongside.  And generally a stable weather pattern either side.

Today, as I write this, it is Friday 13th June 2014 – Black Friday, yes.  But also the Full Moon.  Timed to peak at 4.11pm here in New Zealand. What a glorious day, after a week of atrocious weather!  What an amazing sunset! What a spectacular night! Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky.  (See photo below, taken this evening from my deck - with the Sky Tower visible on the skyline). If you have planned a party tonight, you are fortunate indeed, for the weather is perfect in every way. And it looks set to continue throughout the weekend, with the Full Moon keeping up its good work.

I have also aimed to track results for overseas and whilst this is rather random and not at all scientific, it seems that, wherever you are in the world, the Full Moon will bring the best of the weather to you.  It may not be perfect, but it will be the best of the cycle.  If it’s mid-winter and not very pleasant overall, the night of the Full Moon will hopefully brighten things up a little for you.  If it’s summer, and you have an outside event to attend, chances are you will have a night to remember for all the right reasons.

We know that the moon influences the tides, but interestingly, my further delving indicates that when the Full Moon comes, the high tides seem to occur at similar times of the day.  For Auckland, this is early morning (6-8am) or early evening (7-9pm), meaning low tide is around early afternoon. There is a consistent correlation between the Full Moon and the times of the full and ebb tides.

 Bottom line - I make sure that if I am hosting an occasion, I plan it to coincide with the date of the Full Moon. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and have never been let down.

My theory is not guaranteed or foolproof but, based on my research over a number of years, I can say that it is pretty jolly reliable. If I am attending a function, and it falls on the night of the Full Moon, I look forward to it greatly, as I can be pretty sure there will be no weather worries. 

So, whenever you are planning a party, a wedding, a sports event, a picnic, a fundraiser, an outdoor event, a getaway, a ski weekend, a camping trip or similar – trust my theory, check the dates of the Full Moon and try to coordinate things!  You won’t be disappointed.  You will be able to concentrate your energies on organising a fabulous event, rather than worrying about what might happen if it rains, or formulating a Plan B.

Try it – plan your next party by the Full Moon calendar! Perfect if it falls over a weekend!

By the way – a Blue Moon is the rare occasion when two Full Moons fall within the same month.  Hence the saying “Once in a blue moon” which refers to things that don’t happen very often.

Look out for other posts about Moon facts and theories ...