Listen, Think, Speak

Listen, Think, Speak

On Monday night I attended a workshop called Listen, Think, Speak presented by Nigel Cutts. Nigel is a toastmaster of thirteen years, a speaking coach, and a trainer with the Time to Think organisation. Nigel was the founding president of my toastmasters club, London Cardinals, and is a very active member. I have seen Nigel’s superb speeches and evaluations so I was really looking forward to this workshop.

This workshop was a condensed version of the Time to Think foundation course. What follows is a summary of my notes from the evening.

Nigel began the workshop by describing how he had been introduced to the concepts he was about to teach. At a networking event he was presented with the book Time to Think by Nancy Kline. He told us that he “got hooked” as soon as he started reading. After finishing it he sought out the author and studied to become a trainer within her organisation.

Nigel posed the following questions to the audience: When do you think at your best? When do you think at your worst? We agreed that our most effective thinking occurred when we were relaxed, free of distractions and focused. Our thinking was least effective when under pressure, tired or distracted.

Nigel explained that this course would be about creating an environment to think at our best.

“Our thinking is only as good as the way we are listened to”

In a conversation you are  rarely given time to explore a problem before the focus is snatched away from you. Nigel stated that we think at our best when we are listened to with genuine interest and without interruption.

Nigel suggested forming a thinking partnership withy another person in order to have the opportunity to think independently. During a thinking session the Thinker would speak out loud while the Listener would listen attentively without interrupting. After an agreed time the roles would be reversed.

It was suggested that a thinking partnership should be established on the following values:

  1. Attention – partners listen with genuine interest
  2. Equality – partners treat each other as equals
  3. Ease – partners are relaxed and focusing on each other’s eyes.

“The mind thinks better in the presence of questions”

A question gives the mind permission to run. Nigel stated that thinking sessions should always begin with the Listener asking:

What would you like to think about and what are your thoughts?

If, at some point during the session, the Thinker stops thinking the Listener can ask this follow-up question:

What more do you think or feel or want to say?

The purpose of this is to refocus the Thinkers mind. Nigel was keen to point out that not talking does not indicate not thinking.

Practical Exercise

The audience was given the opportunity to try a real thinking partnership with five minute thinking sessions. Due to the time constraints and our lack of experience we were given the choice of more specific initial questions:

What is an issue in your life that you would like to think about and what are your thoughts?

What is the story of your life as a success?

During my thinking session I was asked the first question and chose to think about procrastination. Speaking without interruption was an odd experience. It forced me to delve deeply into issues that I might normally avoid. Instead of just complaining I found myself proposing solutions and then making plans to implement them. Afterwards I felt like I’d had a very deep and meaningful conversation with a close friend.

When the roles were reversed I listened to my partner thinking aloud. This was an equally odd experience. There were moments in the conversation where I naturally wanted to agree or offer advice, but I had to hold back. The experience  offered me a very privileged window in my partner’s private life.

In a discussion after the exercise other audience members offered similar experiences.

Later in the workshop we repeated the exercise with the following question:

If you knew that you can think to the best of your ability what would you speak about and how would you say it?

Nigel described this as an incisive question. It allowed us to apply our new independent thinking skills to speech development. My ideas were less forthcoming for this question, but if I’d had longer than five minutes I could have come up with some interesting. Some participants were able to develop full speech ideas and some volunteered to improvise their entire speeches based on this minimal preparation.


This workshop opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and interacting. I immediately brought the book afterwards and am keen to learn more about this fascinating area of personal development. Thank you very much to Nigel Cutts for running this excellent workshop.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    it was a great session wasn’t it! If you have any ideas for similarly inspiring sessions let me know and we can discuss putting them on.



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