Last night, the twins' mom asked me if, when I'm trying to get the twins to listen, I tap by my ear. I told her I didn't think so...then I told her it might be one of those things I do subconsciously and don't know, because there are lots of those...then I tried doing it, and it felt perfectly natural. We laughed and decided it must be common for me. Apparently they've picked it up now, and it's adorable (of course).
Their mom's words were, "When I'm trying to get them to listen, I tend to just say 'Listen!' but this is a very soft gesture, and you're a soft person." I find that characterization interesting, but I like it. So many times, people go louder to get attention. I'm not trying to extrapolate into metaphor (though it probably wouldn't be too hard), but think about it: when kids aren't listening to you, many times the natural reaction is to be louder so they'll hear and pay attention.
One of the things I've found with younger kids, though, is that they do want to hear you. They may not like what they hear, but they want to know what you're saying. With Patrick and Lilly (and Bug, and many toddlers), it's so much more effective to get as close to their level as I can, tap my ear (apparently!), and say softly, "Listen to me please." There seems to be a natural curiosity or cooperation that quiets them down, at least for half a second, to see if they can hear you.
I'm not soft-spoken by any means. I'm not always particularly gentle, either. And I definitely fail at being passive. But with toddlers and preschoolers, soft and gentle seems to be the key, at least for the ones I know. A steady voice, repeating itself calmly, is much more likely to achieve the desired results than an escalating volume and pitch.