Last week I attended the National Speakers Association annual convention in Orlando, Florida along with 1,700 other professional speakers from around the world. When one is held captive with this many orators for an extended period of time, it becomes painfully apparent that speakers do indeed love to speak. A T-shirt for sale at the event captured this sentiment perfectly and read: “Help, I’m speaking and I can’t shut up.” Needless to say, by the end of the four days, I had exchanged more words with more people than I had shared in the previous three months combined.
With so many people milling about, most conversations were brief and fleeting. Even during the more intense discussions, it was difficult to avoid the urge of looking around at the other passer-bys. So many people. So little time.
However, there was one discussion that stood out from the numerous superficial conversations. I was intensely focused on what he was saying and he was even more focused on what I had to share. If people walked by, I never noticed. We hung on each others’ every word.
What was so special about this conversation? Nothing in particular. What was special was the person I was speaking with. His name is Stephen Hopson. Stephen is a professional speaker, author, and an airplane pilot. These accolades are impressive enough in and of themselves. But what makes Stephen truly remarkable is the fact that he is deaf… The world’s very first deaf instrumentation pilot.
Stephen has been deaf since birth and uses lip reading to communicate. While speaking with him, I was intensely aware that I could not look away. If I did, Stephen would be unable to understand what I was saying. As a result, I was always completely focused on him while speaking. I also enunciated my words more that usual. And given this level of attention while speaking, I ended up doing the same while listening (yes, he can speak quite well). I rarely interrupted.
It was interesting, but I noticed that my conversations with others seemed more intense after my discussion with Stephen. I listened to them more carefully and did not succumb to outside distractions. I gave each person my undivided attention and in doing so, I felt a greater connection to the person with whom I was speaking.
Goal-Free Living is about being present. And unfortunately most people are not present to most conversations. Try this experiment. During your next one-on-one conversation, assume the other person can only “hear” you by reading your lips. In doing this, I suspect that you will begin to hear things that you have never heard before. Ironic how I learned to listen from someone who can not hear.