To write, read listen

dialogueI have a confession to make: I don’t read a lot of books.
That’s not to say that I don’t read a lot. It just seems that a lot of what a read tends to be the stuff that comes in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Things like blog articles, news stories, magazine articles, ads, Facebook posts, etc.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I have a short attention span, or because I’m a slow reader. That said, there are plenty of book that are on my ‘To Read’ list.

I once worked at an agency where an older writer  found it very strange that, as a copywriter, I wasn’t one of those people who knocked over 500-page novels every week. And that got me thinking. Do you have to read, in order to write?

While I do think reading is a great way to broaden your horizons and look at other styles, I reckon the act of listening is just as, if not more, important. And I hold this belief due to a few reasons.

First, there’s the simple notion that in the history of humans, language was audible before it became visual. Or put another way, words were spoken a long time before they were ever written. Just look at your children – they all learn to speak before learning to read. Written language is simply a way to record information in order to take it to a wider audience or keep it for the sake of posterity.

Second, the spoken word communicates much more than a written word ever will. A written word can be more easily taken out of context, or the intended tone can be lost or mistaken. Less so with a spoken word. Even a dog can understand a spoken word, due to the tone used to deliver it.
Plus, spoken words are loaded with subtext. They communicate so much more than simply the meaning inherent in the words themselves.

Cultural Differences
Many years ago, when I was a university student, a voice specialist delivered a talk to the entire class studying Communications. It was mainly aimed at the students majoring in Theatre/Media (aka ‘acting’) but as an Advertising student, I got a lot out of it as well.

The speaker (forgive me – I can’t recall his name) spoke about accents and how they’re achieved by delivering the word from different parts of the mouth. North Americans get that louder, rolling sound because they actually ‘say’ the word further back inside their mouth. Us Australians, we ‘say’ a word when it’s almost out of our mouth – sort of just mumbling them as they exit.

But accents can easily miscommunicate if you don’t know how to listen to them.
Take a South African accent, for example. After a recent meeting, a colleague and I were discussing the feedback given by a South African client. My colleague thought the feedback sounded harsh. That’s because, to an Australian ear, a South African accent can sound quite stern. It has little inflexion, so it can come across as unfriendly and terse. The Saffas also tend to use the word ‘must’ more liberally than Australians do. In Australia, the word ‘must’ is very authoritative and doesn’t really fit with the culture.

The other thing Australians tend to do is have an inflexion at the end of each sentence or statement. By ‘going up’, it softens a statement, almost making it a question, and makes it more friendly.
The English also tend to do this by putting a ‘yeah?’ on the end of a statement.

So I don’t read a lot of books. But I do listen to the way people speak and the words they choose – whether it happens to be a movie scene with great dialogue or  two people simply talking on the train.
That’s what a good ad should sound like – someone talking, rather than a faceless corporation.

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