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    At the epicenter of communication challenges

    The ground on which we communicate is shaky. Global, technological and generational challenges form the rubbing tectonic plates at the epicenter of these tremors. We are witness to this shaking everyday when we look at our interactions. For example, the Richter scale needle jumps, every time you indulge yourself in your favorite device’s dopamine hit and miss the subtle nuance of a concurrent conversation. A tremor ensues when you get lost in the vague and unclear ramblings of a business colleague’s email. And finally, an aftershock may soon follow the often misunderstood text speak of a Millennial chatting with a more chronologically advanced person. These examples demonstrate that when the global, technological, and generational plates rub together, the very F-word of our communication is disrupted. No… not that naughty…but rather Fidelity. Fidelity represents the highest level striving for our action oriented, high stakes communication. Fidelity is a measure of the accurate transmission of our meaning – what you think, feel and believe. If you are to be successful in the stories you tell, the Powerpoint decks you deliver, or the emails you send, then this F-word…fidelity…must be smoothly achieved. We need to look for tools and approaches to enhance and ensure fidelity by calming the tectonic friction in our communication. Specifically, we must invoke strategies and techniques that help us to be clear, connected, and compelling. To begin, we must focus on the clarity of our messages to buttress the potential challenges that shake up our communication. To do this, we must make sure that all of our important communication is goal based. Who among us hasn’t been victimized by a rambling email sent by a colleague or tortured by being made to sit through our boss’s unorganized and unfocused meeting. Further, it amazes me how much of the time we discover what we’re trying to say, while we’re in the midst of saying it. Having a goal eliminates this type of “public communicative discovery” and provides us with direction and crystalizes our purpose. To me, an effective communication goal has three essential parts: information, emotion, and action. Regardless of if you are writing an email, preparing for a meeting, or giving a TEDx talk, you should start by asking: At the end of my communication, what do I want my audience to know, feel, and do? Not only does this goal provide you with direction. It also gives you a way to assess your communication success. It creates a metric against which you can compare the outcome of what you say. This is far better than the typical success metric I often hear from my clients and students: “I got through it.” Being clear in your communication goal will surely reduce ramblings and tortuous meetings. With your goal firmly in mind, you can use it to help you find a clear structure for your message. We have all heard speakers tell amazing stories that inform, inspire, and ignite our imaginations, and the one thing they all have in common is a logical flow to the information they impart. This logic is encapsulated in a structure and driven by a goal. This logical progression can be starkly compared to the all too common litany of bullet points most slide decks and agendas contain. The bottom line is this: Establishing a specific communication goal enables you to create clear, directed messages. More to come...stay tuned.

      Think Fast. Talk Smart

      Last weekend, I had the honor of delivering my second TEDx talk at TEDx Palo Alto. It was an amazing experience. It will take a few weeks for that video to be ready. In the meantime, I wanted to reshare my first TEDx talk from two years ago at TEDx Monta Vista. Enjoy! TEDx

        Toastcaster 93 Speaking Up without Freaking Out – Matt Abrahams

        [28:08] In this episode Greg Gazin speaks with communications expert Matt Abrahams who shares six of his many techniques to calm presentation jitters and a whole lot more. Matt is an educator and coach who teaches Strategic Communication for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Presentation Skills for Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. He’s also co-founder of coaching consulting practice Bold Echo Communication Solutions where he helps presenters at all levels of an organization to become more confident and compelling speakers. He’s also the author of the Speaking Up without Freaking Out, now in its 3rd edition. You can also catch Matt on the Toastmasters Podcast, Episode 111, with Greg Gazin and Ryan Levesque where he spoke on how to Be Confident When Caught Off Guard. Matt’s Six techniques are also available as an infographic for quick reference.

          Hit the Mark: Make Complex Ideas Understandable

          6 ways to communicate challenging concepts to an audience.

          Think back to the last time you had that “what the…?” moment when you were listening to someone explain concepts that were highly technical, detailed, or nuanced. You most likely experienced confusion, stupidity, or even anger. We have all been there. Conveying complex information in a clear, concise manner is a huge challenge for communicators of all stripes — scientists, technologists, business professionals, etc.

          In order to make your complex information understandable for your audience, you first need to address some bad habits that get in the way.

          When it comes to communicating, we tend to fall victim to two tendencies: We suffer from the “curse of knowledge,” and we explain things in ways that work best for us, not our audience.

          The curse of knowledge (a term I first encountered in Dan and Chip Heath’s great book Made to Stick) simply means we know too much about our topic. Therefore, we make assumptions about our audience’s knowledge and take shortcuts in our explanations or use jargon. Second, we tend to relay concepts to others in the manner we are most comfortable receiving information. This is to say that if we rely on data and detail to learn, we naturally tend to provide data and detail when we explain. These two communication habits serve to make it more difficult for our audiences to understand and learn from us.

          Taking an audience-centric approach to your communication serves as the antidote to these two tendencies. Rather than start drafting your presentation, email, or meeting agenda by asking, “What do I want to say?” start by asking, “What does my audience need to hear?” In order to answer this, you must first think about what your audience knows and how they go about knowing. This reflection helps you to include information that you might have left out as well as to consider using different ways of explaining, such as stories, images, etc.

          From your audience’s perspective, you need to consider ways to make your complex material more accessible. Below are six tools you can use to help your audience understand your complex concepts: Diagram, deconstruct, compare, picture, backward map, chunk.

          See how we illustrate the steps in archery by using these tools below.

            Reflecting on Failure Can Lead to Success and Less Stress

            Recent research from academics at Rutgers, University of Pennsylvania, and Duke has found that taking the time to critically reflect about past failures seems to reduce stress and lead to more careful decision making when confronting future stressful situations. Specifically, these researchers had half of their subjects write about a past failure, while the other half had to write about a topic not related to themselves. Additionally, they measured cortisol (the major stress hormone) before and after the writing as well as after completing a novel, challenging task. Those who wrote about the past stressful experience showed lower cortisol levels after the new stressful task. These subjects were also more judicious in their decision making on the new task. For anxious communicators, this research suggests that taking time to reflect and dissect past stressful communication situations (e.g., the meeting that did not go as expected or the presentation that did not hit the mark) might help you feel less nervous in future high stakes communications. Further, this research reinforces what I argue are the three critical elements to developing and honing effective, confident communication: Repetition, Reflection, and Feedback. Taken together, these three activities are what can transform your ability to communicate. Leading up to a high stakes communication, be sure to practice or role-play several times in environments that mimic the situation you will communicate in. After the communication is over, take time to both (1) reflect on and document what worked and what could have been better, and (2) solicit feedback from trusted others who witnessed your communication. Reflection is a powerful tool for reducing speaking anxiety and improving your communication. Please consider taking time to think about your past communications.

              Matt Abrahams, Bob Daugherty, and Dr. Wendy Borlabi


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              Today's show focuses on effective speaking and how leadership in business relates to leadership in sports. Matt Abrahams is co-founder and principal of BoldEcho. Matt is a dedicated, collaborative coach. As a former senior leader in Learning and Development at several software companies, Matt understands the importance of continuing education, especially around communication skills, to help employees at all levels of an organization succeed. In service of this goal, Matt published Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, a book written to help people present and communicate in a more confident manner. In addition, Matt also lecturers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business where he teaches Strategic Communication and Effective Virtual Presenting. Bob Daugherty is the Executive Dean of the Forbes School of Business and Technology. His research areas of interest include leadership, economics, and investment decision making. Previously he served as the CEO of the Jack Welch Management Institute and holds degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Cambridge. He serves on multiple companies’ boards and charitable foundations. Dr. Wendy Borlabi is the performance coach for the Chicago Bulls and is founder of Borlabi Consulting, a performance psychology firm. She has done extensive work with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and co-founded Acumen Performance Group (APG) along with six current and ex-Navy SEALs. Together Bob and Wendy conduct research regarding personal mastery and decision making that provides insight regarding how lessons in sports are applicable to business and vice versa.

                253: How to Speak Out…Without a Freak Out with Matthew Abrahams

                Stanford instructor Matt Abrahams teaches techniques to calm speaking anxieties…from managing procrastination to cooling body temperatures, and more. You’ll Learn:
                1. How to attack both the symptoms and sources of speaking anxiety
                2. Why to envision communication as a conversation instead of a performance
                3. How long to make eye contact
                Listen to the Show Below: Items Mentioned in this Show:

                  Question and Answer Session Best Practices

                  Nervous about your upcoming big presentation or talk? By this time, you have practiced a thousand times and prepared your facts-filled slides, your speech (or your presentation notes), and the outfit you’re going to wear on the big day. Still with all the practice and preparations you’ve done, is it possible to prepare for a question and answer session that comes after? What if the audience asks a difficult question, would you be able to think on your toes and answer it calmly? Believe it or not, you can actually prepare for a frustrating situation like this. Ashish Aurora, Co-Founder of SketchBubble, and Visme created an infographic cheat sheet that will help presenters, especially the beginners, excellently answer difficult questions and, at the same time, keep their cool.

                    Episode #104: Matt Abrahams

                    I had an enjoyable time chatting with Jonathan Schwabish on his PolicyViz podcast. I invite you to listen in as we talk about ways in which you can feel more confident delivering compelling, authentic presentations.

                    Matt Abrahams is the author of the book Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting which can help you address your presentation anxieties. Matt teaches Strategic Communication for Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and Presentation Skills for Stanford's Continuing Studies Program, and De Anza College. He has published research articles on cognitive planning, persuasion, and interpersonal communication. Matt is also co-Founder of Bold Echo Communication Solutions, a leading communication coaching consulting practice. Through highly interactive workshops and one-on-one coaching, Matt helps presenters at all levels of an organization to become more confident and compelling speakers.

                    In this week's episode of the podcast, Matt and I talk about addressing your speaking anxieties, different technologies you can use to help you on your way, and a variety of other presentation-related topics.

                    Episode Notes