Figures in Speech (Issue 886)

In which we are reminded to speak … simply and slower... when we’re speaking with our clients.

I went to see a play last night, “The Barbershop Chronicles,” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

Playwright Inua Ellams was intrigued after a friend gave him a flier advertising a course to teach barbers the basics of mental health counseling. He wondered, “How could a haircutting session turn into a confessional?”

So, he backpacked across Africa, hanging out in barbershops in South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria and transcribing the stories he heard. In his play, the action moves back and forth from London to Lagos and other African capitals. Twelve British and African actors play 30 characters (almost all of whom seem to be fans of the English football club, Chelsea) who cheer for Chelsea, chatter, complain, argue, and tell jokes while waiting for a trim or sitting in the chair. The men discuss relationships between fathers and sons, masculinity, power, leadership, employment, migration, homesickness, and violence directed at children.

Very powerful to eavesdrop on their conversations… and despite their acting skills and microphone amplification, I missed, probably, 25% of their banter.

Their speaking pace and African-influenced vowel pronunciations, particularly, were not familiar. In several scenes, my comprehension lagged their conversation anywhere from a half-second to three seconds…. which is a long time when someone is speaking two to three words per second. While their physical movements provided enough context that I could follow the flow… I missed a few details, particularly when they broke into Nigerian Pidgin.

When we’re selling, we say what we say in our sales pitch pidgin and matter-of-factly run-on sentences; our prospects or customers hear what they hear.

Sure, their brains (like mine, during the play) unscramble complex sentences or expressions and interpret them contextually…. And why would we ask them to work that hard?

Our smart phone dictation software appreciates speech at a moderate pace.. in simple sentences…pausing periodically so the memory processor catches up.

Works great with clients, too.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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