I had an unusual experience today. I was flying by Easyjet and… I could clearly hear and understand every single word of the safety announcement! Well done Sarah!
I had just been coaching an executive, of eastern European origin, who worked for an American multi-national company. I said to him that native English speakers were frequently the worst culprits for massacring the language. He was extremely surprised and sceptical about this assertion.
“Ok” I said “have you ever listened to a Lufthansa safety in English?”
He nodded to indicate “Yes”.
“So,” I continued “what about an Easyjet safety announcement – in English?”
He conceded my point and went on to say that, as a non native speaker of English, he found them impossible to understand. As a native speaker I also find them virtually incomprehensible.
Why? Well I sympathise with the crew. I want to underline quite clearly here that I think Easyjet staff are extremely hard working and demonstrate great professionalism in a demanding work environment. And, as a professional performer myself, I would also hate to be ignored completely by an audience of over 100 people.
So the crew member who delivers the safety announcement, more often than not, rushes through it at breakneck speed with all the under-articulated words and syllables melting into one another.
Only a really skilled native English speaker could make such a glorious mess of it! And I know that they can speak very clearly when they want to – which is most of the time. Announcements about food and drink, onwards travel, landing cards and charitable donations are all clear.
And what message do the passengers get? The safety check, at least by comparison, doesn’t really matter – let’s tick this item off the list as quick as possible.
Now, I sympathise because I’ve been there. As a musician and a public speaker I’ve spoken to inattentive or even hostile audiences. And through training and experience I honed that special combination of body language, vocal strength and verbal clarity and verbal clarity that, more often or not, turns the situation around.
The point that I’d like to make is this – learning doesn’t only happen consciously, it also happens unconsciously. If you speak clearly, reasonably slowly and with authority:
1. The passengers, maybe just a few, are more likely to listen to you.
2. Even if they don’t listen to you consciously the message is more likely to embed in the unconscious anyway – we’ve all had the experience, for example, of a tune or snatch of conversation that we just can get out of our mind… I believe the Germans call it an “earworm”.
Clearly the crew are under a great deal of time pressure during the period of embarkation and take off. Where does that pressure come from I wonder?
Easyjet management and training – are you listening? The safety announcement is more than just a list item. English, the language of Shakespeare, is a beautiful language. Please give the words the vocal power and clarity they deserve – it’s called “stage presence” and “stage craft”.