Wanted: International Listener

I am rushing through the venue to reach my speakers stage on time. Today I am speaking about startup cooperations at Forum Young Tech Enterprises.

Image source: Hannover Messe

Image source: Hannover Messe

It's the fourth day of Hannover Messe, the world's leading trade fair for industrial technology. The conference program counts about 2.000 Speakers. That's around 1 speaker every 100 visitors. Given the average length of the slots, this translates into at least 15 speeches to chose from every minute. That's a lot of speeches! And of all things I am the person that slowly melts down on a chair in front of a speaker with a well researched and professionally delivered  passionate speech. I mean, who doesn't?!

But sometimes I just wonder: With all the speakers around is anyone still listening?

Listening is a „highly complex problem solving activity"

Listening is one of four language skills, next to reading, writing, and speaking. Spoken language is very different than written language.


In contrary to reading and writing, speaking and listening are (1) delivered through the medium of sound (as opposed to print for written language); (2) linear and live; (3) are also linguistically different. These lead to “a wide range of input styles”. Assimilating this variety is what makes listening so difficult. But without listening what's the point of speaking?

Everything has been said but not by everyone yet.

This morning on LinkedIn there were more then 1.3 million speakers. As far as I am concerned for every profile with a "speaker" tag in their job description, there are at least 5 more without. This is great: Change starts with standing up and sharing your ideas with the world. This is what the web's about - connecting people. But with roundabout 10 million speakers around there are only few who want to be known for listening.

That wouldn't surprise you if you'd recall the last conference you visited:

  1. How many of the speeches were relevant to you?

  2. How many of them could you acoustically hear well?

  3. And how many of them were also delivered well?

  4. How many could hold your attention for at least a minute?

  5. And for 15 minutes?

  6. How many did you listen to the end?

  7. How many do you remember?

If your result resembles mine you will also wonder why we bother speaking. And if listening matters?

W.A.I.T. = Why Am I Talking

Another way to put it is using the Chinese proverb “You have one mouth but two years.” Great speakers are rare, but great listeners scarce. Listening is the ultimative communication bottleneck. It is one of the most important leadership skills and the first thing you need to master as a coach. Good listeners make people believe they were heard. Great listeners let them feel that what they said matters.

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3 months after the conference I still receive emails from putative listeners of my presentations. They usually start with a general "Thank you for your inspiring talk." and end with an invitation to contribute to a topic I have never heard of, and most definitely didn't mention in my speech. I almost delete this one too, but then I read more carefully - a message from Bernd from Holland. He and his team work on a similar topic in Amsterdam. He's been listening to my presentation and invites me to share my opinion with his colleagues. Few weeks later we are planning a project together.

Thank you for listening!

So, here's the summary: The art and science of cooperation are the source of all progress. This takes both a good speaker and a good listener (at least). Few skills that don't seem to come naturally to most of us but can be learned. As a good speaker you will win people's admiration, but as a good listener you will earn their trust. People that are both bridge worlds and are the ones to lead the change. Thank you, Bernd, for listening and speaking, and making the difference!