Saying the Right Two-Thirds

Stephanie asks “Do you talk just to hear yourself speak?” This reminded me of a quote from Fight Club: “When people think you’re dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?”

I hope I don’t talk just to hear myself speak. I just spent a week and a half in Morocco by myself while Julie was back in BC. I probably said 200 words out-loud all week. I didn’t start talking to myself, so that was encouraging.

Anyway, Stephanie has a peculiar medical condition. She of course has my sympathies, but I also thought it’d make for a great plot device in a movie:

i have a problem with my right ear, i’ve had it for quite a while now and have seen a few doctors in canada, but none have made any effort to help me, so i can only hear about 2/3 of what you say when you talk to me. everything else is interference, noise that sounds like i’m swimming in a fishbowl- watery and echoing…

in the end, i’ve determined that most of the words that many people say are completely unnecessary. how unnerving it is to be paying absolute attention to someone else when the only word i can hear is “like.” i now live in a world of eternal likes and umms, and it’s disappointing to put so much effort into listening to someone if they only give me garbage.

The whole plot could hinge on whether the protagonist hear the right words from somebody, just before they, I don’t know, plummeted off Hoover Dam.

There’s an interesting implied challenge here to make yourself more succinct. Assume all listeners only hear two-thirds of the words you say. Do you really want to drive them nuts with “ums” and “likes”. Uh, like, no.


  1. What? No comments yet?

    This is a new perspective on an old chestnut. Hah, the definition for that expression is perfect.

    The 2/3 idea is a good one! I like to stick by the good advice of silence, a pause to think, instead of “umm.” (A friend of mine, poor girl, did it incessantly when nervous during presentations!) “Like” is difficult to depart from but I definitely sympathize that once you pick up on it, it’s all you hear. I think it’s more of a language impediment rather than a catchy word because in French immersion elementary school, a girl in my class used “comme” all the time instead. We don’t know how else to fill that void.

    I’d forgotten there were many good things besides What Not To Wear on TV tonight when “oh my god! I LOVE it! I know! I’m sooo hot!” got annoying.

    I actually expected your post to explore talking-for-the-sake-of-talking but this isn’t far off the mark. Sorry, you can ignore 2/3 of this comment 😉

  2. Oh, what an appropriate post! I’ve had poor hearing for years — very bad high-frequency hearing, because of lots of loud music through headphones in my mis-spent youth. (Stage manager for rock bands.)

    Most women’s voices were about 50% garbled, and some I could hardly hear at all. If there was any background noise, even men’s voices were difficult. But I’m vain, and didn’t want to admit it. My wife finally got fed up, dragged me to the doctor, and the let me try a tiny little state-of-the-art hearing aid.

    1. It really, really works. Programmable for a million kinds of responses.

    2. You can hardly notice it. It sits up on top of my ear, with a little transparent tube going in the canal. It blends in with my hair and specs (you can pick the right color) and nobody notices.

    But the amusing this is how often I just TURN THE DAMN THING OFF! There is an amazing amount of stuff that I really don’t want to hear — squeaking brakes, coffee-shop conversations, wind through the sunroof — not to mention marketing ‘droids and Apple owners.

    But on the plus side, I no longer find out that I said “yes” to things I didn’t really hear or understand. Sticky, sometimes, no?

  3. Good thoughts, Darren.

    From the presentations perspective, I think it’s even better to assume that 2/3 is a *generous* assessment of what people will here. Keep stripping it down, keep reiterating and re-teaching the most important few concepts again and again so that your message can’t possibly be misunderstood — by your audience or by yourself.

    This is a great rationale for giving shorter presentations rather than longer ones, putting fewer (or zero) words on slides, etc. — works across many scales.

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