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The Gentle Art of Listening to Speeches

The Gentle Art of Listening to Speeches
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Welcome to the November 2011 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H.

The Gentle Art of Listening to Speeches

We herewith present truly helpful advice on the subject, thanks to our old friend and writer, Garnette Wassen…

As a result of all the listening to dinner speeches I’ve done in my life, I’ve worked out a basic posture. It consists of placing my left elbow on the table and resting my cheek in the palm of my left hand. Not only does this convey the impression that I’m following every word, but in case my eyes grow heavy I can use the tip of my forefinger to prop an eyebrow up while I draw the lower lid down with my thumb.

But the first thing a listener should learn is to anchor himself securely. Some listeners court disaster during an after-dinner speech by lacing the fingers together and resting the chin on them like a hammock. The danger here is that in the course of a very long speech, the fingers are apt to come unlaced without warning, plunging your chin into your hot cup of coffee.

The safest plan is to grip the table and scowl intently, pursing your lips and nodding your head rhythmically whenever the speaker’s glance comes to rest on you. But don’t nod too rhythmically, because the steady movement tends to have a decidedly soporific effect.

Naturally, the listener should vary his or her expression according to the circumstances. For children’s recitations I always assume an indulgent smile, with my head tilted quizzically. The trouble is that after the first 12 stanzas my smile starts getting rigid, my jaw muscles tighten into knots, and my lips draw back in a sinister grimace. This sometimes frightens a reciting child.

Sooner or later every listener must face the problem of how to stifle a yawn. Swallowing is not recommended, because the gulp is apt to be audible and the effort to strangle it without being detected produces an expression of acute anguish, causing the eyes to pop and tears to course down the cheeks.

This is bad enough if the narrator is telling a funny story, but it’s worse if the story is emotional, since he’ll then be flattered into thinking that he’s touched some deep sympathetic chord in his audience and will make his story even longer.

If a yawn can’t be suppressed, I usually resort to some ruse like upsetting my drink or, in the old days, dropping my cigarette down behind the upholstery of the sofa. While I was on my hands and knees during the ensuing excitement, I could get rid of the yawn safely, and if I was really alert, I could continue creeping on all fours out of the room.

This technique couldn’t be done today, because you wouldn’t have a lighted cigarette to drop. So likely a bit of loose change would accomplish the same thing.

Anyway, good luck!

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