History of the ILA

 A history of the study and research of listening must begin with “The Father of the study of Listening,” Dr. Ralph G. Nichols. Dr. Nichols was a professor at the University of Minnesota and all listening roads led to that University for over 25 years prior to the formation of the International Listening Association.  Dr. Nichols pioneered, popularized and parlayed the missing “L” back into learning the world over. ILA is a professional organization whose members are dedicated to learning more about the impact that listening has on all human activity.

The International Listening Association has met as a body every year since its founding in 1979. On 23-24 August, 1979, Dr. Nichols’ successor, Lyman K. “Manny” Steil, hosted the “State-of-the-Art of Listening” symposium at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Twenty-seven people from eight states with diverse backgrounds ranging from elementary school teacher to business and industry consultants met for the symposium. Unanimous agreement of the need for a listening network led to the birth of the International Listening Association. The established general purpose of ILA was “To promote the study and development of effective listening.”  Dr. Steil was elected President Pro-Tem and with the help of others, began the ILA.

The International Listening Association promotes the study, development, and teaching of listening and the practice of effective listening skills and techniques. ILA promotes effective listening by establishing a network of professionals exchanging information including teaching methods, training experiences and materials, and pursuing research as listening affects humanity in, for example, business, education, and intercultural/international relations.               

The first order of business for the new organization was to construct a constitution. Dr. William M. Gehring at Indiana University at South Bend constructed the first draft of the ILA constitution. He modeled the constitution and bylaws of ILA after the constitution and bylaws of the International Reading Association. Gering’s draft went through several revisions, with the final one being completed by the ILA Steering Committee for review and reaction. The constitution and bylaws were officially approved on 17 February, 1980. Since that time, the Constitution and bylaws have been revised, but the mission and vision of ILA remain the same since 1979.


 The 1980 First Annual International Listening Association Convention was held in Atlanta, Georgia at the Terrace Garden Inn. This convention was a cornerstone event. It set precedent for officer elections. Officer responsibilities were also established, such as setting times and dates for the next meeting, establishing immediate priorities  and goals for the association, establishing membership responsibilities and informing the membership of ways in which they could assist in accomplishing these goals (Erway, 1980).


The convention was a hit and set a trend that has continued for over 40 years. Robert Denlinger, Director of Federal Programs and Special Services, highly commended the conference. He said, “Of all the conferences I’ve attended that deal with topics in education, the ILA session in Atlanta on 17-19 February has to rank at the top from the aspect of information gathering and from the point of useful social interaction” (Denlinger, 1980). He also commented on the diversity of the group:


The group assembled, though varied in background and in educational settings, operated as a unit interested in striving toward a common goal. It is a rare occasion that one finds elementary school people, high school people, guidance counselors, college staff members, and business world representatives able to talk the same language and be understood by each other (Denlinger, 1980).


The annual convention has thrived and grown. As a supplement to the annual meeting there have been pre-conference sessions and summer conferences. The first summer conference was held at Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota. The conference lasted two days, 12 and 13 July, 1984. The first pre-conference meetings preceded the 1995 convention. The proposal for a Business Pre-Conference that year suggested the business pre-conference was needed in order to promote the special professional needs of the business and training community. The first North American meeting was in Montreal in the summer of 1987. The first international meeting (a summer conference), was held in Aomori, (co-sponsored by the Japanese Communication Association). In 2003 the first annual meeting outside of the US was held in Haninge (Stockholm), Sweden. (Access complete list of Convention Sites here).

Early listening pioneers who have made unique contributions to the field of listening have been recognized in the ILA’s Hall of Fame. Some of these pioneers include James I. Brown, Sam Duker, Paul Rankin, Wesley Wiksell, Sara Lundsteen, Miriam Wilt, Carl Rogers, Seth Fesenden, Harry Goldstein, Charles T. Brown, Carl Weaver, Larry L. Barker, Ella Erway, Paul Bagwell, Lyman K. Steil, Ralph G. Nichols, and Andrew Wolvin. And of course, the list continues.


Two companies, Sperry Corporation (now UNISYS) and Telstar of St. Paul, MN, graciously donated early corporate assistance. A big boost was given to the awakening of the importance of listening worldwide by the Sperry media blitz of the early 80’s. Sperry’s electronic and print ads affirmed, “We Understand How Important It Is, To Listen.”  Sperry also provided financial assistance and sent seminar representatives to the Denver Conference in 1981. Telstar of St. Paul donated time and financial assistance thanks to Bob Miller (president in 1983) and his staff. ILA was housed at Telstar for the first four years of its existence providing free administrative and technical help.


To inform members of ILA who could not make it to the annual conventions,The Listening Post was established as the official newsletter of ILA in 1982. Originally, the newsletter was simply called the International Listening Association Newsletter but it was renamed Listening Post  in 1982. This newsletter has been printed ever since, reporting on topics such as membership and convention proceedings as well as brief articles and reviews. This newsletter also serves as a channel to send out the call for papers and programs for upcoming conventions. It provides a means by which the board keeps in touch with members. A complete list of LPs can be accessed here.

Other publications have followed. The International Journal of Listening was first published in 1987. Listening Education and The Listening Professional soon followed.

The history of ILA shows what an extremely devoted group of people can do. The founders believed that listening was an important aspect of learning, teaching, counseling, culture, and the business world. These advocates of listening joined together as a small group in 1979 and developed into an organization that now includes annual conventions, pre-convention conferences, committee meetings, task forces in various areas, and included over 600 members in the year 2000. The members of ILA continue to put forth great effort to reach out to the national and international community to expand the awareness and improve the practice of listening.


*Originally authored by Harvey Weiss and Nanette Johnson-Curiskis, parts were also excerpted (with permission) from “A stroll down memory lane: A historic look at ILA” by Margaret Fitch-Hauser and Sarah Kirchhoff (ND, actual date 2001). The Earpiece 1(1). Final editing done by Michael Purdy. Update: Pamela Cooper, 2014.

International Listening Association
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