Rudolph attended a two hour lecture on holiday travel. He is familiar with the subject so he found his attention wandering, and the speaker, while knowledgeable about the subject, was not knowledgeable about speaking to others, and was given to repetition of material that was not difficult to understand the first time it was said, and to the display of various interesting behaviors unrelated to the subject matter.

Since Rudolph’s attention was not fully engaged by this dry presentation of old information, it was free to spend some time attending to the speaker’s behavior instead of to the speaker’s message. This pastime is something that speakers might not be aware of, but would certainly want to discourage if they were.

After a few moments of watching the speaker pace, listening to her repeat most of the things she was saying, and supporting most of her assertions with examples from her personal life, Rudolph settled down to focus on the speaker’s method of punctuation which consisted of substituting periods, and frequently commas, with the word “okay”. Sometimes she seemed to be asking permission, as in “Today we’re going to review tips for successful sleigh travel, okay?” and sometimes she was just signaling the end of a thought: “So you want to keep the bells inside the sleigh at all times okay.” Or “The sleigh will end up parked as close to the chimney as possible okay.” Now and then she seemed to be particularly excited by a sequence of ideas and the okays were tossed out like snowflakes: “You want to be careful with hoof noises okay because that sound really carries on the roof okay and you have to watch the guys behind you okay because they can’t see how far they are from the sleigh okay or the edge of the roof okay.”

Rudolph was sustained through much of the lecture by counting and categorizing the okays, and he was only slightly resentful of the time being wasted by an unnecessarily dull presentation. And perhaps we can forgive the speaker as she apparently delivers this lecture only once a year or so.

But if we ask for someone else’s attention, even if it’s just to guide our sleigh for one night, maybe we should be prepared with what we give in return.



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