Listen Fast and Talk Slow


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“A while ago I tweeted something like ‘If you use 2x on your podcasts, should you also aspire to speak twice as fast to others?'”

Tyler Cowen


I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually at 1.6 and 1.7x mostly because I find just listening to a normal paced conversation a bit boring.

I actually find listening to podcasts even at that pace a bit boring, and if I have 100% of my attention at my disposal, like when I’m commuting on the train or, ahem, sitting down quietly by myself for a few minutes, I read or write (I’m commuting at the moment!).

My morning routine is to be woken up by my 10 month old daughter at about 5:30am, go downstairs, put one headphone in and start podcast listening at 1.7x while I do some housework (dishwasher, garbage, dog maintenance, etc). My daughter loves all the activity, and I get the company of an interview. When it comes time to sit quietly for a few minutes, I read.

Listening to a conversation is dramatically different than having one. In a real conversation, you have to *talk*, which is much more cognitively demanding than listening. Listening is not very exciting, which is why public speakers need to be charismatic, a physical quality, to keep audiences engaged. Without the richness of the in-person medium, an observed conversation is a very dull thing. At 1x anyway. Speed it up and you increase the information density and so make it more interesting.

A really charismatic speaker 😀


This has a limit, though. I’ve tried listening at ever higher speeds in my ‘quiet times’ to up the load, and it doesn’t work. I have trouble following the conversation and get bored again! It seems, for me, that pod-listening only works when I’m doing some automated physical task (dishwasher, garbage, cleaning, yard work, walking somewhere) and at 1.7x. I don’t drive on my own much, but when I do I drop the rate down to 1.3x or so because driving takes a fair bit more brain power. There are also a few podcasts I break my rules on, too, because I want to savor them more. Tyler’s is one, along with Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. They get 1.3x treatment.

So back to Tyler’s question: listening fast does increase my talking speed because I’m just used to it. But this is a bad, bad habit. Why do we converse at 1x anyway? I say that this is the speed limit of talking, and faster talking degrades the quality of thought: faster talkers make less sense!

I’ve long had the view that pod-listening is the best way to learn about things, because you get the benefit of a mostly unstructured exploration of ideas between two smart people. They’re less precise than they would be in writing so you get to participate in the miscommunication and working out process. I feel like there is a better relationship between the difficulty of an idea and how long conversants spend time on it than in writing. Simple things get skated over and less simple ones dwelled on more.

So you should listen to podcasts. And mostly at 1.7x!

Check out InsNerds’ twin podcasts here and here.

About David Wright

David's entire career has been in the reinsurance industry and all with Beach & Associates, having first joined the Toronto office as a summer intern trainee broker in 2003. David is an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society and CFA Charterholder, with extensive experience in both sales and analytics. He has worked with global and regional clients across casualty, property and specialty lines of business. David now manages the New York office as well as all of Beach's North America Analytics teams. You can listen to his podcast at, follow him on twitter: @davecwright, and sign up for his newsletter at

Learn to listen to your podcasts at 1.5-1.7x. You're not a participant, so you can do it a lot faster than you could if you were talking too.

When we posted this article Tony included his picture as a joke, then the article got mentioned at a major blog and brought in a RIDICULOUS amount of traffic which was kind of embarrassing because of the joke. Oh well.

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