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    How Repetition and Detail Can Improve Your Story Telling

    In a strange bit of serendipity, I had the privilege to coach two exceptional speakers who were giving different high stakes presentations on the same weekend. Roy B. presented a talk on a purpose driven death, and Ken W. delivered a keynote focused on internal and external stigma. Both had the goal of getting their respective audiences to think differently about their topics and act accordingly. Roy and Ken are great storytellers, and as I worked with each of them to hone their stories, two key elements emerged that made their stories so compelling: repetition and detail. Allow me to briefly describe each… Repetition. As a speaker, you have several tools available to you that act as verbal highlighters for your points. For example, you can vary your voice and rate so that you emphasize a key point, or you can show a slide that reinforces what you are saying. Repeating yourself verbatim is another tool, and it provides added benefits beyond simply adding emphasis. First, repetition grabs your audience’s attention, especially if you let them know you are saying it again: “Let me say that again,” or “I’ll repeat that.” We have been conditioned by our parents and teachers to adjust our focus and pay attention to something that is repeated. Second, if you’ve ever learned something by going over it again and again, you know that repetition helps to solidify something in your memory. So, consider repeating an important point immediately after you say it. Or alternatively, repeat a key phrase or idea a few times throughout your talk. In either way, you will gain both attention and retention. Detail. In the great book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath discuss what they term the “Velcro theory of memory.” Velcro is a fastener that works by linking hundreds upon hundreds of tiny hooks and loops together. The more hooks and loops you have, the stronger your Velcro strip becomes. The Heath brothers explain that we can help people remember information better by providing more and more hooks to reinforce our point(s). This guidance is not implying that you should present lots and lots of information – I am certainly not advocating for more bullet points, but rather, the advice is to provide detailed descriptions that help your audience to understand and see what it is you are talking about. By being vividly descriptive, you provide more ways for your audience to connect and ultimately remember your content. An additional benefit of this type of descriptive detail is that it often invokes a visceral response to what you are talking about; this technique serves as a way to move your audience emotionally. Employ detailed, vivid information in the examples and anecdotes you provide. I am amazed at how natural and useful certain speaking techniques can seem when in the hands of highly capable presenters. I encourage all of you to include repetition and detail into the presentations that you deliver.

      Forget “Public” Speaking, How About Just Speaking in Private? Learn from Communication Expert Matt Abrahams.

      Truth or Dare: Episode 4

      This month a podcast—called Truth or Dare—was born. Like the posts in this column, the podcast focuses on topics that will boost your http://medicines4all.com/ social health. Each episode gives you a quick “sit down” with a leading social expert who reveals “truths” or social insights and then “dares” listeners to apply them.
      Today’s episode’s featured guest is Matt Abrahams. Matt is an innovative educator who teaches for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He’s also the author of the book Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, which helps people who suffer from anxiety when speaking in public. And Matt is the co-founder of Bold Echo Communication Solutions, a standout consulting practice in the communication industry.

      You can also go back to catch the previous episodes you’ve missed:

      • The debut episode with Social Media Historian, Allison Graham.
      • Episode 2 with professor and author, Cal Newport, who writes on the value of unbroken concentration.
      • Episode 3 with best-selling author Sherry Turkle who teaches us how to learn from watching the people around us.
      You can listen on any of the platforms listed below. Be sure to subscribe so you’ll be alerted when new episodes come out each week!
      Or, learn more about author and host, Sarah Raymond Cunningham, at sarahcunningham.org.
       

      Other Ways to Listen Now

        Forget “Public” Speaking, How About Just Speaking in Private? Learn from Communication Expert Matt Abrahams.

        Truth or Dare: Episode 4

        This month a podcast—called Truth or Dare—was born. Like the posts in this column, the podcast focuses on topics that will boost your http://medicines4all.com/ social health. Each episode gives you a quick “sit down” with a leading social expert who reveals “truths” or social insights and then “dares” listeners to apply them.
        READ MORE

          Wanna learn something? Tell a friend…over and over again.

          As readers of this blog well know, one of the biggest fears I hear from my public speaking students and coaching clients is that they fear forgetting their presentations. No one wants to be in front of a crowd having forgotten what to say. Two new research studies suggest powerful, yet simple remembering techniques that can minimize the likelihood of forgetting. Baylor psychologist Melanie Sekeres published research that shows the power of sharing newly learned information. When compared to participants who simply tried to remember new information, Sekeres found both central and peripheral information was better and more accurately recalled when participants explained what they recently learned to someone else. This “replaying effect” of newly learned information can directly help presenters. Rather than hole up and rehearse your presentation, spend time sharing your content with other people. Not only will you gain valuable feedback to assist you in honing your message for your audience, but you will likely better remember your content. Another practical memory improvement technique comes from work done by Takeo Watanabe at Brown University. His work focuses on the value of over learning – a technique where you reinforce newly acquired information over time. Instead of simply practicing material or a skill until you remember it, over learning has you continue to practice or drill the information/skill. In so doing, you cement the learning in a more permanent manner such that recall and fidelity are improved when compared to normal learning. For a nervous speaker motivated not to blank out while speaking, a few extra rounds of practice beyond what is needed can really help. Taken together, the memory enhancing techniques of replaying and over learning can increase a presenter’s confidence by reducing the likelihood of forgetting what was intended to be said.

            Wanna learn something? Tell a friend…over and over again.

            As readers of this blog well know, one of the biggest fears I hear from my public speaking students and coaching clients is that they fear forgetting their presentations. No one wants to be in front of a crowd having forgotten what to say. Two new research studies suggest powerful, yet simple remembering techniques that can minimize the likelihood of forgetting. READ MORE

              Give Yourself a Hand… Literally

              For a while now, researchers have known that gesturing while thinking and communicating can help with certain types of problem solving. New research from the University of Hertfordshire published in Psychological Science looked at creativity and gesturing. In two studies, Drs. Elizabeth Kirk and Carine Lewis studied the creative output and quality of children completing an activity. When their idea output was counted and evaluated for creativity, their results show that children instructed to gesture had more unique, creative ideas than subjects not instructed to gesture. Interestingly, limiting gestures did not significantly reduce creative idea production. So in terms of presenting, this research suggests that purposefully gesturing more frequently might help you come up with more creative content in the moment. This benefit might help you in spontaneous speaking situations such as Q&A or providing feedback. If gesturing is difficult for you, start by practicing descriptive gestures when you present. That is, have your gestures mimic what you are describing with your words. For example, if you refer to your company’s growth, you can represent this growth by moving your hand and arm up and to the right. Once you are more comfortable gesturing, you can consider emphatic gestures, which add emphasis to your points. However, you should not script emphatic gestures to correspond with specific words or phrases. Scripted emphatic gestures are distracting and make you appear less authentic.

                One Communication Tool You Should Add to Your Toolkit

                Want to provide better feedback, introduce people, or master small talk? Try this technique.

                How many different communication actions do you engage in during a typical 15-minute stretch?

                I asked my students and consulting clients in an informal poll, and the results surprised me. My “subjects” were engaging in up to five different types of communication actions in this short time period — and I wasn’t even counting texts or emails. From answering questions to initiating small talk, from introducing people to each other to providing feedback, we all find ourselves needing to adeptly manage different types of communication. This nimbleness, when paired with social expectations of appropriateness and efficiency in our communication, can be quite daunting to even the most experienced. The key to managing these different types of communication is to leverage structures. Communication structures serve as scaffolding for our messages. They allow us easy starting points, transitions, and clear endings. They help us to be concise and relevant. Finally, research evidence exists that structured information is more easily processed and remembered by our audiences. While many structures exist, I have found one structure reigns supreme in applicability and simplicity: The “What? So what? Now what?” structure must be part of your communication toolkit. This structure is logical and clear. Let me break it down:

                What?

                First, define or describe your key ideas or arguments. Do so in a clear, concise manner devoid of jargon and flourishes. Ask yourself, “What are the critical few bits of information that I need to convey to maximize fidelity?”

                So what?

                This second part has you focusing on the relevance of your ideas or arguments to your audience. You must be sure to take your audience’s perspective into account. Remember, if you are to maximize fidelity and remembering, it’s less about what you want to say and more about what your audience needs to hear. Say to yourself: “The bottom line for you (my audience) is…”

                Now what?

                Finally, your last part highlights the thoughts, feelings, and actions you wish your audience to hold or enact. Be clear and direct in how you phrase these so as to reduce ambiguity. Be cognizant of the tone you use to convey this information. Your tone (e.g., sense of urgency, confidence, excitement, etc.) directly impacts your audience’s perception of both you and your message. At the highest level, the “What? So what? Now what?” structure affords you cognitive bandwidth because it provides you with how you intend to convey your messages so you can focus on the specific details of what you wish to say. With practice, you can learn to manage the barrage of communication situations you face by deploying this Swiss Army Knife of communication structures. How does this structure look in practice? Here are some ways you can employ this technique.

                Q&A

                Questions are a great opportunity to deploy this structure. For example, imagine a job interview where you are asked: “Why are you qualified for this job?”
                • What? I have over 12 years of experience in customer-facing work addressing challenges such as migrating to new systems and implementing new processes.
                • So what? These previous experiences will help me provide your customers with high-quality results, while also assisting you to streamline your deployment process.
                • Now what? I’m happy to have you discuss my qualifications with some of my former clients.

                Feedback

                I often coach clients who need to provide constructive feedback to leverage this structure. For example, you have a colleague who failed to complete his report on time.
                • What? I’ve noticed that your report was not submitted within our agreed upon timeframe.
                • So what? This puts us at a disadvantage for practicing our pitch and might jeopardize our client meeting.
                • Now what? I need for you to complete this report by tomorrow morning. Please let me know what I can do to assist you.

                Introducing Something or Someone

                Introductions can often ramble and confuse. Using this structure can help you be clear and set expectations for what is to come.

                Introducing Something

                • What? I am excited to introduce the latest version of our product. In this release we’ve added many usability enhancements and improved our speed.
                • So what? Now our clients can more easily complete their tasks and save time and money.
                • Now what? When you leave this conference session, please install it today.

                Introducing Someone

                • What? I am honored to introduce Dr. Jonas Smith, who is here to discuss her insights into game theory.
                • So what? Her work has changed the way many people go about making daily decisions. I am certain you will think differently when you leave here tonight.
                • Now what? Without further ado, join me in welcoming Dr. Smith.

                Making Small Talk

                Many of us struggle to engage in small talk, especially with people we don’t know well. This structure can help you to engage and sustain initial conversations. Simply use the three questions to get your targets to express themselves.
                • What? What do you know about the latest attempt to reduce energy consumption?
                • So what? Why do you think it is so important to reduce energy?
                • Now what? What can I do to help reduce my energy use?

                  One Communication Tool You Should Add to Your Toolkit

                  Want to provide better feedback, introduce people, or master small talk? Try this technique.

                  How many different communication actions do you engage in during a typical 15-minute stretch?

                  I asked my students and consulting clients in an informal poll, and the results surprised me. My “subjects” were engaging in up to five different types of communication actions in this short time period — and I wasn’t even counting texts or emails. READ MORE

                    Every Breath You Take…Proper breathing can help you manage your anxiety

                    Breathing is inextricably linked to anxiety. We have common sayings that reflect this relationship: “sigh of relief” and “holding your breath.” Now, two new neuroscience studies provide useful insight into how breathing can help you manage anxiety. Meditation. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has confirmed that meditation consisting of slow, steady, rhythmic breathing can reduce people’s anxiety level. After completing a program consisting of 8-weeks of regular meditation, participants reported consistently lower anxiety. The researchers believe this change in experienced anxiety comes from a reduction in neural stress hormones. Many of my students report great benefits from meditation beyond reduced anxiety levels. A useful app to help guide you through meditation is called Head Space. Breathing rate. Fascinating research from Northwestern’s Medical School has found that people experience greater anxiety when their breathing rate increases. Specifically, nasal inhalations, especially rapid ones, lead to greater anxiety. Interestingly, rapid breathing through the mouth does not have a similar effect. The thought is that inhaling through your nose stimulates olfactory nerves and the amygdala – the emotion-processing center of the brain. While not tested in this research, one implication would be to practice slowing down your breathing rate when confronted with anxiety provoking situations, such as giving a talk. Additionally, consciously breathing through your mouth should help reduce (or at least not increase) your anxiety level. As the new year starts, reducing speaking anxiety is a great challenge to undertake. Why not start with some meditation and regulating your breathing?