How to fully concentrate when listening to an audiobook

Reading is a great hobby. Whether you read over 50 books a year, pick one up occasionally at the weekend or bring a stack with you on your summer holidays, reading is arguably one of the most relaxing pastimes.

But over the past few years, another form of reading has taken centre stage…listening to audiobooks.

While there is still some debate over whether or not it counts as reading, it’s safe to assume most of us are in favour of audiobooks that provide a convenient way to multitask and still fit in a great read. 

From 2020 to 2021, searches that included the term ‘audiobook’ grew by 22%, but how do we focus on what we are listening to? Are we taking in the story, or is it simply background noise? 

How to concentrate when listening to an audiobook

Listening to audiobooks is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone and may take some practice. You may find that your mind keeps wandering, but don’t worry. There are a few things you can do to train your brain to listen to audiobooks more easily.

‘I have been an Audible member since 2020 and have over 280 titles in my library,’ says celebrity manager Mayah Riaz. ‘I absolutely love audiobooks and can’t be without them now.

‘But I’ll be honest, it took a while to get into. At first, I found concentrating difficult and would forget what was said. So I would constantly re-listen to chapters.

‘However, over the past 12 years, I have been so focused on audiobooks. I listen to around two a month.’

‘I can fit audiobooks into everyday life easier than physical books. I listen to them when getting ready, when driving when I’m walking, cooking, tidying, when doing emails and even when I’m falling asleep. I’m hooked on them.’

But it took Mayah time and practice to get to that stage. She also put steps in place to ensure she did not become distracted.

‘I wear headphones as it creates a more intimate experience,’ she tells us. ‘I don’t go on social media when listening to books. 

‘I also constantly check in with myself to make sure I’m retaining the information. That has become an automatic thing I do.’

An extra tip Mayah suggests is to listen to a free audiobook trial before buying it. This way, you can see whether you like the narrator’s voice and reading style.

Learning to focus on audiobooks has other benefits too.

‘It is surprising how much you take in when listening even though you have other thoughts in your head. It is also a bit like meditation,’ Mayah says. ‘I’ve also found that it’s made me a better listener.’

TV producer Martin Kimber has ‘overwhelming’ dyslexia, making reading a ‘real-slog’.

‘Having to re-read every sentence [of a book] two or three times gets exhausting,’ he says.

‘I went through my entire school life, including an English literature A level, with undiagnosed dyslexia. It only got diagnosed during my second BA degree. 

‘I always wondered why I found reading such a hard task. Then I realised I could retain information much more easily if it were audio.’

Top tips for concentrating while listening to an audiobook

John White, Director of We Run, a running coaching company, has been reading audiobooks for over five years.

He initially started with podcasts, which he finds lighter.

‘Podcasts require less concentration than a full book,’ he says. But I soon migrated onto audiobooks, and now it’s an automatic reflex to hit play whenever I’m doing any menial task that doesn’t require much brain power.’

Below, he shares his top tips for taking in the information.

  • Pick books you are interested in. ‘The audiobooks I find it hardest to focus on are almost always those that I wasn’t desperate to listen to in the first place,’ John says. ‘I find that if I’m interested in the author or subject, it’s pretty effortless to stay focused on the content because I’m just keen to learn more and absorb it.’
  • Don’t be afraid to rewind. ‘Even with the most interesting books, it’s inevitable that from time to time, you find your mind has wandered, and you’ve missed out on the last little section of the book,’ John points out. ‘I used to find this frustrating, but given that I’m mostly listening when doing mindless tasks like cooking or walking the dog, I try to keep in mind that even with a few distractions and rewinds, I’m still squeezing plenty of extra value from that time.’
  • Do it alongside a mindless activity such as colouring, doodling, or doing a puzzle.
  • Listen while you go for a walk.
  • Use audiobooks as a distraction on your commute to work.
  • Before you get to sleep, listen to an audiobook to calm your mind and distract you from any anxieties you may have.
  • Find tedious chores that go well with audiobooks, such as cleaning or cooking.
  • Listen rather than scrolling on your phone.
  • Listen to something you know. Rather than jumping straight into the deep end, why not listen to an audiobook you have already read. This will help you get used to listening to a book, and you are much more likely to have a good first experience. 

The production of audiobooks is also key to optimising the listening experience.

‘If I am producing an audiobook with the intent of making it relaxing, then, firstly, in the casting, I would consider a few things about the voice themselves. I would probably go with a lower register, not too high pitched. A soft, smooth, velvety tone,’ says Niki Alexandrou, an audiobook production manager at SNK studio. 

‘Personally, I like an accent that differs from the perhaps more commonplace or “neutral” accent.’

In the recording, Niki will consider the pace, energy and storytelling tone. 

‘Reading a book is not like recording an ad or a podcast; it is important to ensure the voice is not too pushed or sales-y. It should sound like someone telling you a story. Not too slow and not too fast.

‘There’s a balance to strike with the energy. If it’s too relaxed, then it might sound as if the reader is bored. It should be intriguing.’

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