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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Remedy for Nerves- You Should Know

Nervousness is produced by purely psychological means, it can be controlled by purely psychological means. This is a point which many speakers have not realized. Bleeding when you cut yourself is a physical event, and requires a physical cure such as a bandage. Nervousness has real enough physical manifestations, such as sweating, feeling sick, and trembling. But it has a purely mental cause; bandages won’t help nervousness, but ideas will.

In this article I am going to offer a series of ideas which will help you to see nervousness in perspective, and to control its effects. But in the end, the only cure for excessive nervousness is experience. And that is the most difficult thing to get if you are over nervous. The solution, as I suggested earlier in the chapter, is to set yourself less stressful speaking assignments for the first few times. As you gain experience, your nervousness will subside, and you will be able to face a large audience. But don’t be ambitious first time out; learner speakers should drive carefully. And when making your first trial runs, remember the points made in this section. Each will reduce nervousness to a level where you are able to start to speak; increasing experience will then get the problem finally under control.

The first idea which offers a ‘cure’ for nervousness is the realization that the effects of nerves can rarely be seen from the outside. You feel dreadfully exposed when standing in front of an audience, but the plain fact is that they can’t see what you feel inside; you are not made of perspex. It is almost always true that you look better than you feel. Like the ducks on the Bishop’s pond, you may be paddling like hell underneath, but on the surface all appears calm. Remember that most of the audience are quite some distance away. Your eyelid may be trembling, your knee cap jumping like a jack-in-the- box, and your stomach churning like a steam engine, but none of this is visible from a few feet away. The back row can see nothing; even the front row can see little of what is really going on inside. So providing you prevent yourself pacing up and down, or waving your arms about randomly, you will appear to be calm, even if you are not.

Nervous speakers can rationalize their nervousness by thinking about the real situation they are in. Think about the audience as people, their motives, their hopes, and their interests; it will help focus your attention on realities, rather than your lurking fears. Here are six reflections which will help you gain this perspective:

  1. It is an undoubted fact that an audience is made uncomfortable by a nervous speaker. There is a strong empathy between speaker and listener. One of the great showmen of speaking, Dale Carnegie, encapsulated this point in his dictum: ‘I’m OK, you’re OK.’ Making yourself relax is a kindness to them as well. Think of yourself as helping them, and you will feel they are helping you.
  2. Remember that the audience is not hostile. You were asked to speak, therefore they do want to know what you have to say. You are welcomed, since in effect, the audience has initiated the conversation by asking your opinion on a subject. They want to learn for their own benefit, and your job is to help. You also have the power of novelty, for they certainly haven’t heard it before, at least not your way.
  3. Remember that you are much more awake than they are, and much more self-critical. Therefore you are much more aware of errors and pauses than they are. What seemed like a dreadful mistake to you, was probably almost unnoticed by them. It may take them several minutes to become aware that something you said was peculiar. If you calmly correct the mistake, they will hardly realize you made it. Pauses, too, are perceived differently by speaker and listener. The audience is living on a different time scale, and what seems like eternity to the speaker may be barely noticeable to the listeners.
  4. They are going to be more embarrassed than you, if the worst happens and the talk collapses. It is only kindness to them, then, to keep going. Realizing that they are more frightened of failure than you are, makes it easier to be sensible. So try to keep the talk in order, for their sake.
  5. An audience is naturally well disposed and sympathetic. Speakers are frightened of audiences because they imagine them to be composed of cruel ogres, who take malicious pleasure in failure, and sadistic delight in mocking errors. You may be surprised to know, if you are nervous, that this is not the case. Audiences feel involved with the success of the presentation, and the natural kindness of people is increased by their concern that everything should go well.
  6. Even if everything does go wrong, they can’t (and won’t) actually shoot you. It’s worth seeing your nervousness in perspective: what do you expect to happen if you make a mistake? The fact is that in many years of watching and teaching effective speaking I have never once heard derisive laughter. If the speaker is nervous, and makes mistakes, there is a sense of concern, and support from the listeners. The penalties for mistakes are very small, and most mistakes seem much bigger to the speaker than to the listeners, who may hardly notice. Don’t worry: it is not as bad as that!

In summary, one important cure for nervousness is to see what you are afraid of in a true perspective. Don’t think of the audience as hostile and frightening: talk to them as individuals, and think of them as a collection of people. You would not feel that bad about talking to any one of them alone. Follow Machiavelli, ‘divide and rule’. Remember that anxiety is usually at its peak just before you start talking. Once you are under way, you have to concentrate on what you are saying, and you forget about yourself. The keys are seeing the situation in perspective, careful preparation, and a realistic assessment of the audience. Providing you don’t try to put on an elaborate front which you cannot sustain, nothing is likely to go wrong.

There remain, however, people whose misfortune is being over nervous, and who find simple rational self-control little help. In some cases this over sensitivity is genetic, in some cases it is due to bad experiences, such as too much hostility and teasing from school mates (perhaps because of a temporary problem—a stammer, a lisp, or a silly mother). Whatever the cause, there is no doubt that there are many people who cannot get on top of their nervousness by rationalization.

They undoubtedly have an additional burden. Sartre once said that no one was born a coward, and everyone had the choice of whether he was going to be a coward or not. Nature endowed some people with a more lively sense of fear, and these people undoubtedly had more to triumph over in order to be brave. But nature had not made them cowards as such; that was solely, and only, their own choice. It is a stern lesson. If you are over nervous, it does not mean you cannot be a successful speaker, it merely means you have more work to do.

Nerves And The Audience- The Inter-relation

The audience is disturbed by nervousness, as well as the speaker. There are two distinct ways in which the audience is affected; their judgement of the competence and subject knowledge of the speaker is affected by his or her nervousness (i.e. ‘Why is he nervous if he knows what he’s talking about?’): and their sympathy and concern are aroused by watching someone who is nervous (‘The poor person is miserable!’).

Firstly, the audience’s judgement of the speaker’s competence is affected by nervousness. The audience interpret the validity of the message depending on their perception of the assurance of the speaker. It is natural to feel that someone who knows what he or she is talking about, shows it in the confidence of his or her manner. So if a speaker is nervous the audience subconsciously feel it is because he or she does not know the subject properly.

There are two components to this: firstly, of course, it is difficult for an audience to realize how frightening they appear to the speaker. If a listener is sitting quietly in a chair, he does not feel very frightening! And he is not really aware of everyone else around him in the same way as the speaker is. So it is very difficult for him to understand why anyone should be nervous about talking to him. The listener tends to think that the speaker’s nervousness must have some other explanation. Secondly, people who are not telling the truth are often nervous. Whereas this is not true of competent tricksters, and there are many other reasons why people are nervous, the unconscious effect of evident nervousness on the audience may be to make them suspicious. Consciously they may be sympathetic, underneath they find their confidence in the message undermined.

So nerves can affect the credibility of a speaker. Studies show that ‘expressed confidence’ (i.e. using confidence asserting phrases such as ‘I am sure…’, ‘I have no doubt that…’), as well as confident behaviour, affects the amount an audience is persuaded by a speaker. It is also easier to listen to a speaker whom you believe to be an expert—there is a subtle sense of time well spent. Whereas listening to someone whom you suspect does not know what he or she is talking about is difficult, because it may be wasted.

For these reasons, nervousness in a speaker affects the benefit the audience gets from a talk. The speaker’s credibility is reduced if he is obviously nervous, and the audience enjoy the talk less. How do the audience know if the speaker is nervous? There are both obvious, and subconscious ways in which an audience perceives nervousness. The subconscious ways depend on non-verbal communication; but also on a phenomenon which has only recently been discovered. Stress shows in a speaker’s voice by signals which are beyond our conscious perception. Listeners are sensitive to the presence or absence of inherent micro-tremors in the speaker’s vocal pitch. All voice patterns include an individual and unique level of micro-tremor (similar in many ways to fingerprints). When someone is placed under stress there is a marked drop in the frequency of vocal micro-tremors, which is registered by the listener. This phenomenon has been used to construct lie detectors, and it may explain why we sense if someone is telling the truth or not. To us it seems like a magic fifth sense, because we are unaware of the physical basis of the evidence, but through micro-tremors, we can judge just how nervous the speaker is.

As well as these unconscious channels of communication, there are many visible signs of nervousness. The basic sign is an inability to stand still when talking:

When a person is emotionally aroused he produces diffuse, apparently pointless, bodily movements. A nervous lecturer may work as hard as a manual labourer. More specific emotions produce particular gestures—fist-clenching (aggression), face- touching (anxiety), scratching (self-blame), forehead-wiping (tiredness) etc… An anxious person tends to talk faster than normal and at a higher pitch.

All these signs will communicate the speaker’s nervousness to the audience. It is such signals which make a listener say, ‘you can hear him sweating with thinking’. They can be controlled, of course, and they ought to be controlled if the audience is to be comfortable. Nothing is more distressing than seeing another person going through a purgatory of anxiety. Out of sheer kindness to your listeners, you should try to damp down the amount of random movement you make. Calmness in the speaker, even if created by conscious self-control, is reassuring and relaxing to the listeners.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Coping with nerves: the credibility problem

Nervousness is probably the biggest problem to be surmounted for most inexperienced speakers. Were it not for nervousness, common sense, and normal intelligence, would ensure that most talks were interesting and well planned. But nervousness seems to disable common sense, and normal intelligence gets swamped by anxiety. A blog like this is needed just because speakers get nervous. Like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights, they don’t know which way to run. All sorts of bizarre behavior results, unless there are firm guide lines. Like clinging to the wreckage in a storm, any fragment of advice gives security. Even if the speaker doesn’t feel at all like smiling, for example, the knowledge that he or she ought to smile is enough to make them feel that they are doing the right thing.

Nervousness is a very real problem, and is the root of most of the other problems with speaking. We all talk competently in a group of friends, but as soon as the group of friends becomes a wall of strangers, nervousness usurps our every-day competence, and we need the prop of advice.

Unfortunately, many experts on speaking dismiss nervousness as not worth discussing. Like laziness, or cowardice, these blog seem to imply that it is something to be ashamed of, and certainly not something to be discussed. The speaker may be jollied along with advice like ‘Don’t worry’, or ‘It’ll be all right’. He or she is given the impression that nervousness, like incontinence, is something which is better not thought about. It will go away if you ignore it, and if not, there’s nothing to be done about it. Nervousness is beyond help, these books seem to imply, and only courage will overcome it. Good chaps put a brave face on it, and never mention it to other chaps.

Sadly, all this hearty pretense is no help; it merely increases the sufferer’s sense of his or her own inadequacy. It is also cruel: extreme nervousness is one of the most unpleasant experiences most civilized people go through. It is a form of physical and mental suffering which is unparalleled. Extreme misery, anguished anxiety, and even physical nausea are added to shame and a sense of inadequacy. Embarrassment is the least of the suffering. It may take weeks, months even to get over the misery caused by a catastrophic failure to cope with nervousness. The speaker may go through savage reassessments of his or her abilities as a result of ruining a presentation through nerves. Undoubtedly, nervousness is a serious problem; it needs careful and considered help.

Nervousness can be helped, and eventually reduced to manageable proportions. It is, after all, a purely mental phenomenon. Attitudes, and knowledge about the cause and function of the anxiety, advice about how to reduce it, and experience which renders the terrifying familiar, are the clues. Much of the work on nervousness has been done by musicians: talented young musicians find the intricate dexterity required to play their instruments turned into clumsiness in front of judges and audiences. Since it is clearly a waste, musicians have studied the problems of tension in performance. Speakers, who have similar problems, can benefit from the knowledge and techniques gained from these studies.

The first thing to learn about nervousness is that it is universal. Every nervous speaker thinks that he or she is the only one in the world to suffer. Compared with the calm competence of every one else, he or she feels their own shameful failure as a personal inadequacy. The truth is that nervousness when facing an audience is very common. Almost everyone suffers from nerves, even experienced professionals, and the reason why we are not aware of this is simply that the basic effect of nerves doesn’t show. Providing the gestures are controlled, butterflies in the stomach are invisible to the audience. So the calm and confident speaker you watched with envy, was almost certainly trembling like a leaf inside: you just couldn’t see it.

It is a good thing that speakers are nervous. Contrary to popular belief, the calm and controlled speaker is acting, he or she is disguising nervousness in a practised simulation of indifference. If he or she were really not nervous, there would be no energy to give the talk: nerves are useful to the speaker, without them he would go to sleep. Even people who make their living from appearing in front of audiences—actors, comedians, performers—are nervous just before going on stage. They rely on these nerves to give them the boost of energy which makes them sparkle. And the shot of adrenalin they get becomes a fix. It is something they can’t do without, and is probably why these people love the stage experience so much. Nervousness is a useful, and essential part of performance, not something to worry about or be ashamed of. The art of effective speaking is not ceasing to be nervous; it is using the nervous energy to improve the talk. Standing up and speaking requires a great deal of effort: the slight lift given by nervousness arouses our energies.

If you feel you have an unusually nervous disposition, you may be surprised to know that you are not alone. Such sensitivity is common; psychologists calculate that: ‘Between five and eight per cent of the population are unduly anxious.’ Knowing that you are not alone doesn’t change the fact that you are nervous, but it should give you hope that your nervousness can be conquered. One of the more unpleasant features of being very nervous is a sense of isolation, and
the fear of shame if others see that you are nervous. Take heart, there is nothing especially unusual in being highly sensitive, and you are far from alone. Almost certainly, there are compensating advantages in your higher than average levels of arousal, and sensitive response to anxiety. Highly nervous people, for instance, are often of above average intelligence. It is possible to apply this intelligence to solving the problem of nervousness by learning about it, and applying the results of research. The higher sensitivity is also compensated by greater alertness, and awareness of audience reactions. It sounds paradoxical, but is none the less true. Nervous people usually make good speakers, once they have tamed and applied their nervousness.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Note Taking Habit- A Great Help For The Speaker

One of the first problems a speaker faces when he or she starts to prepare his presentation in earnest, is how is he going to record it so that he is reminded as he talks? In other words, what sort of notes is he going to make? Nine times out of ten, this question is never considered. Some sort of notes are produced, usually depending on factors such as what other people have been seen to do, what sort of notes were used at school, and sheer chance. Notes to speak from seem just to happen, without thought, and the speaker muddles through. Poor notes, however, are an added strain when talking, and can cause you to miss sections of the talk, lose the place, and dry up. So it is worth thinking about the best way of taking notes. As with everything to do with speaking, a little thought in advance saves a deal of embarrassment and confusion on the day.

Notes are to help you

The notes you make are the most important insurance policy for the success of the talk. The product of the preparation stages is a set of notes, and they represent the only permanent part of the talk. Speaking is ephemeral, while notes endure. But notes are not the whole talk. You will find, as you talk, that ideas and facts from the work you did in preparation will come back to you, and you may decide, impromptu, to use a piece of information which you did not put in the notes. There is nothing wrong in this: the purpose of a talk is to say what you know about a subject, and notes are for assistance, not to replace knowledge.

The main advantage of good notes is to ensure that you do not forget what you intend to say. A great deal of research has been done on memory (there are many specialist textbooks on memory, for instance), and one of the most consistent results is that stress affects memory. Its usual effect is to make us forget important things, but stress can also cause complete black-outs of memory, as well as causing sudden vivid reminding about things previously buried in the subconscious. The effect of stress is unpredictable: it makes memory irrational and random. And the speaker is under as much stress as most people experience in their day to day lives. It is therefore especially important that he or she takes steps to compensate for the erratic and unreliable performance of the memory under stress.

Some people are unfortunate enough to go completely numb and silent when facing an audience—their memory switches off. The brain processes that operate recall are notoriously out of reach of the will power. We are quite unaware of the process of laying down memories, we feel no pain, no sense of effort, and no sense of choice. We can only predict, in a fairly random way, what we will find memorable, and what we are likely to forget completely. Brain specialists believe that quite large parts of the grey matter are involved in the recording and recall of memories, just as we now know that huge parts of the brain are involved in decoding the information from our retinas, before passing it on to the conscious part of the brain. But we are not aware of the process of stereoscopic vision, just as we have no consciousness of the processes of memory. We often need some object to remind us; notes are a kind of external memory that is under conscious control. Notes jog your memory, and produce what the audience perceives as a fertile flow of ideas and enthusiasm.

Some people, instead of seizing up in front of an audience, become uncontrollably garrulous under strain. They always find plenty to say; the trouble is that it may, or may not, be relevant. Good notes are just as important for this kind of person. The art of good talking is not just to fill the allotted time; it is to use the time wisely to say as much as possible that is useful and necessary. The most useful function of notes is not just to remind you of the material, but to give it structure. They provide a plan or map of the structure of the talk.

Notes are the main way in which the content and structure of the talk can be controlled. Without notes, most talks are formless ramblings. With notes they can be an orderly set of points, with a clear sequence and coherence which the audience can rely on. Notes should not be thought of just as bits of information to fill the time. Notes are like pigeon holes, into which the subject can be fitted. But the notes are not the pigeons. The facts, ideas, information and anecdotes will come from the speaker’s memory; he or she, after all, is the expert on the subject, and the talk will be more interesting if it is spontaneous and anecdotal. The notes provide the structure of categories, the wood round the pigeon holes, to continue the metaphor, which controls and shapes this flow of information, knowledge, and stories. For this reason, notes should have a prominent and logical sequence of headings. Because their main function is structural, they can also contain cues, quotations, jokes, signposts, and stage directions such as when to stand up, sit down, move to the board, and change to a new topic.

Notes, therefore, should not be a version of the full information. The details are much more interesting, and convincing, if they come directly from the speaker’s memory. The speaker should be like someone engaged in earnest, animated conversation, anxious to tell his listeners about all the facts and ideas he has at his finger tips. If the notes are a dense maze of factual material, he will become more like someone saying his lessons. So notes should be the mere prompting, the skeleton, on which the talk can be built. All sorts of information can form these promptings; but they should consist of thoughts, keywords, and headings, not full sentences.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spoken Language is Not Written Language.

Spoken language has two other important differences from written language. Firstly, speaking uses much repetition. The typical way of explaining, amplifying, and exploring a point is to add an extra phrase in a sort of phonological bracket. By dropping or raising the voice, it is made clear to the listener that the information is a sort of sideline, or footnote, which is meant to clarify what is being said, rather than introduce a new point. Speakers also tend to restart sentences in different ways, trying to get across what they mean by different routes, and when they feel the point is clear, not bothering to complete or tidy up what they have started to say. There is also much trying out of different words, and rhetorical repetition for emphasis. All these features contribute to the muscular, flexible, and alert feeling of spoken language. It is like a living contact with the mind of the speaker, whereas written language is a fossil record of his or her thoughts.

The second way in which spoken language differs from written language is that the choice of vocabulary is very different. Written vocabulary is formal, and explicit. Spoken vocabulary tends to be familiar, and everyday. Indeed, it is usually possible to get someone to simplify and clarify a tortuous written sentence by asking him to look away from the page, and say what he means. A writer who has solemnly written: ‘Tests were conducted on the loader to ascertain the maximum failure capacity’, when asked what he meant, would say something like: ‘We loaded it up until the cable broke’; a simpler, and clearer, way of explaining a technical point.

Writers, then, use formal grammar, single expressions, and elaborate, abstract vocabulary: speakers use intonation, repeat things until they are clear, and use everyday words. There are great differences between spoken and written language, and when written language is read out, it is less effective. I am not suggesting that there is a difference of worth, between written and spoken language. They are simply used for different purposes; one is to communicate face to face, the other communicates remotely. Misusing the difference is one cause of boring presentations. It you read out written language, your voice will naturally lack intonation. The structure of what you say will be over formal, and the vocabulary will be too abstract. This is why listening to written papers being read out is so difficult. The listener gets no sense of contact with the speaker’s mind—there seems to be a wall of fog between the living mind of the speaker, and the listener.

Written language often sounds false and clumsy when it is read out, and what I have said in the last few paragraphs should explain why. The added problem is that many people are poor readers; their reading voices are stumbling and monotonous. It is possible to read written text in an interesting way—actors do it constantly—but it requires great skill. It is certainly not to be recommended as a way of giving a technical or informative presentation.

Another disadvantage of reading is that the presenter loses eye contact with the audience. Because he or she has to follow the text, it is impossible to do more than glance up at his listeners from time to time, whereas someone speaking spontaneously will naturally be looking round at the listeners. When reading, a presenter also loses the chance to make gestures and arm movements, which are naturally suppressed when reading from a script because they seem artificial. None-the-less reading a written text is a method often used. It is one I don’t recommend. In all but exceptional circumstances, it is a sure way of losing the attention and interest of the audience. It is an expensive way of buying the confidence that you won’t forget what you are going to say. You may not forget, but the audience almost certainly will.

If you are terrified of forgetting what to say, there is a compromise which helps boost confidence, by providing safety points to return to if the impromptu flow of words breaks down. The technique is to write down the opening and closing sentences, as well as sections within the speech, for use in the case of emergencies. By providing islands of security, you will increase your self-confidence. It also provides natural resting places, and if the worst happens, and you dry up, there is something to say while you are finding your feet again. But don’t write down more than a few sentences, otherwise the whole talk will acquire the monotonous flavour of the written script. The first sentence of each new topic, and the conclusion of each section, is as far as you should go. In between, use ordinary notes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Closing Stages- The Time To Get Remembered

When a speaker conduct his speaking infront of a group of audience, he/she need to communicate the message that he/she likes to do. And for this communication of message, speaker need to generate audience attention into the speech and more over he/she need to sustain that attention throughout the speech. At the same time, when speaker ends or close his speech he need to ensure a good closing. Because, closing is the thing which people remember for longer and the total speech's success ultimately depends on the closing. A good closing make the speech a successful one, make the speaker an effective speaker with good speaking skill.

Having started successfully, and carried the talk on effectively without losing the audience’s attention, time is up and you now have to finish. How do you do this successfully? There are tactics for finishing, just as there are tactics for opening, and thought about what you are trying to achieve will, as always, improve the performance. Many people feel that the ending is more than half the battle. Certainly, the impression which the audience will carry away with them will be strongly influenced by what happens in the last few minutes of the talk.

The essential aim is to round off the presentation on an up beat. You can, for instance, get attention again by a vital, arresting and memorable fact or idea. Another way of finishing is to tie up all the loose ends by restating the sub-headings you used, restating the main heading or title of the talk, and restating the conclusion you came to. But whichever tactic you choose, it is important to remember that the last sentences must be telling. So the encoding you chose for your closing remarks should be memorable. Try to find a good phrase, a witty or stylish way of putting the point, or some clear statement of the main aim of the talk, for the last thing you say. It can help to have the last sentence or two written down in your notes. If you are nervous about forgetting it, or getting confused, it may even be worth trying to learn it off by heart.

The virtue of all these tactics is that they will save you spoiling the effect of the presentation by falling into a weak or confused ending, which trails off in embarrassment. A surprising number of speakers seem unable to end firmly, but mumble on with increasing indecision at the end of their talk. Never end weakly with: ‘Shall I go on? …’; or ‘What I should have said if I’d had time was…’; or ‘What I intended to say was…’; or ‘I think that’s all I have to say’. The audience will remember the last point, or sentence, clearly. If that last sentence is a shambolic confusion of indecision, with the texture of a rice pudding, then the whole talk will be remembered as weak. End boldly, with a final statement of your main point which you fly like a banner, before sitting down.

The aim of the concluding sentences is to make sure that your talk goes somewhere. It should not just peter out in confusion. Karl Lashley told a nice anecdote:

I attended the dedication, three weeks ago, of a bridge at Dyea, Alaska. The road to the bridge for nine miles was blasted along a series of cliffs. It led to a magnificent steel bridge, permanent and apparently indestructable. After the dedication ceremonies I walked across the bridge and was confronted with an impenetrable forest of shrubs and underbush, through which only a couple of trails of bears led to indeterminate places.

Make sure that your proudly constructed talk does not lead to a wilderness of bear-tracks! It is also a courtesy, if you are speaking as part of a longer seminar, conference, or presentation, to prepare the ground for the next topic and speaker. Something simple like: “It’s now coffee time. After a ten minute break, Alan will tell you about the stress calculations used in the project,” will form a neat conclusion. This tactic helps to give the audience a sense of continuity.

If you are not followed by someone else, make sure that you end as strongly as possible. ‘So we see that nutrition is a vital element in the health of the community’, or ‘Voice-recognition is developing rapidly, and within ten years will be commonplace’, or ‘the familiar chlorate process, which is the mainstay of our company profits, is much more complex than most of us realize’, is the sort of clear statement that is needed. If you start clearly, keep people aware of where you are going throughout the talk, whether it is short or long, and end firmly and impressively, your talk is going to be remembered as an effective presentation. Judging by the average standards of presentation one hears, it may well be the best of the day.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Signposting All The Way- Important For A Good Speech

When a speaker conduct his speaking infront of a group of audience, he/she need to communicate the message that he/she likes to do. And for this communication of message, speaker need to generate audience attention into the speech and more over he/she need to sustain that attention throughout the speech. Without audience's attention, it is very difficult for the speaker to communicate their ideas with their audience. And in absence of audience's attention, speaker become failure to have an effective communication. Now, to sustain the attention of audience into the speech, speaker can do something which is much familiar as Signposting.

The idea of ‘signposting’ originated with Tolman in 1951. The idea was that people become mentally disorientated by new information, and need to find their bearings. On an intellectual journey, signposts which point the way, and help to locate ideas, help people to understand. Tolman also speaks of a ‘placing-need’ which makes people want to have a map in their minds into which they can place the new information. Within that perceptual field clear orientating references and signposts are needed if the listener is to absorb information comfortably.

Once the opening stages of the talk are over, and the audience have been told where they are going, it is important to continue to signpost throughout the talk. This is done by announcing the topic, giving a heading, or listing keywords every time you start a new section of the talk. These can be written up on a board, flip chart or overhead projector. You should also give one or two sentences at the beginning of each section which act as an overview of the section. After developing the section, explaining and clarifying the point, giving examples, and discussing them, you should then come back to a sentence or two of summary and conclusion. Some signal is then needed to alert the audience to the fact that a new topic is about to start. Writing the new heading up, which requires you to change position, and pause while writing, is undoubtedly the best technique. But shifting position, allowing a significant pause, or even a change in the tone of voice is better than nothing.

The next section of the talk should start in the same way, with a sentence or two of definition, followed by explanation, examples, and clarification. As the talk progresses, you should also stop and take stock frequently, collecting together what has been said so far, summarizing the overall plan of the talk, and showing how what has been said so far leads on to the next point. Make cumulative summaries as you go through the talk. Each time you change topic and move onto a new subject, summarize in a sentence or two what you have said so far, refer to the map of the structure of the talk, and then announce the new heading. It seems easy and obvious, but many speakers do these things so quietly that no-one notices. The audience wake up from a day-dream to discover that the topic has changed while they were away.

So clear and repeated signposting is needed, if the talk is to be effective. Within each section, you should give the general picture at the beginning, and not launch into the body of the topic until you have given them an overview both of the topic itself, and of the way you are going to treat it. The effect of this is that within the overall structure each sub-element should have its own structure. Donald Bligh suggests that each point should be a version of the ‘general form’ of ‘making a point’ He lists these moves as follows:
  1. Concise statement
  2. Use the Board
  3. Re-expression
  4. Feedback
  5. Recapitulation and restatement
  6. Elaboration
  • More detail
  • Illustration
  • Explanations
  • Relate to other points
  • Examples
A structure of this kind within each section will help to make the progress of the talk easier to understand and clearer. One of the difficulties that a speaker faces is that there is no lay out code in speech, such as the indentations and blank spaces which are used in written material to make the structure clear. The speaker must supply all these props to understanding with his voice. This is why it is especially important to emphasize the change of topic using as many different techniques as possible. Imagine a book in which the chapter headings were all set in the same size type as the rest of the page, and had no white space around them. If there were no paragraph breaks either, the text would be impossibly difficult to read. There would be a dense blur of information, with no visible shape or structure. Yet this is what happens in most talks. The paragraph breaks, and the white space round the headings must be provided by the speaker’s tone of voice. Even if he emphasizes the change of topic, some of the audience may be day-dreaming at that moment, and miss the change. But if you write the new topic on the board, or flip chart, then when listeners return from their intermittent day-dreams they can see that a new topic has started. It is like leaving a message for an absent person to collect when he returns.

The absence of a layout code also means that listeners can’t scan the page to see the shape of the information, or to look up a point which has gone by. Listening, unlike reading, gives the audience no opportunity to pause, rest and go back over material, at will. Once spoken, the information has gone. So the speaker has a much greater need for clear and simple structure in his information than the writer. The speaker must also be careful not to make mistakes; they can never be unsaid. And the listener must recognize that information lost is never recovered.

There are two more rules which must be added to the overall advice on how to glue together your points to make them clear, structuring a presentation. Firstly, there should be clear explaining links to connect point to point. Secondly, each individual point should follow the ‘rule-example-rule’ principle, where a brief statement of the fact, idea, or point, is followed by an example or illustration, and then that fact, idea or point is repeated. A simple phrase, at most a sentence, will do for the first statement. Any amount of illustration can reinforce this, depending on the importance and complexity of the point, and a summary restatement should follow.

One final piece of advice; it is often very helpful to be quite open and honest about things you find difficult to explain. By taking your listeners into your confidence, you will enlist their interest in the solution to the problem of how to explain the point. You will also make them feel that their difficulty in understanding is not because you are a bad explainer, but because the point itself is complicated. You align yourself with them, and make the point itself the enemy. They are then more sympathetic, more aware, and in trying to help you, will accelerate their own understanding.

Signposting For Longer Speech

A longer presentation (one which lasts more than ten minutes) demands a long span of uninterrupted attention from the audience, and therefore needs more skill in the structuring of the talk. Ten minutes may seem a short period, but as I have said earlier, audiences find it difficult to listen for long without taking little breaks for daydreams. So longer talks need more organizing, more linking, and more reminders. They have a greater overhead of time which must be devoted to housekeeping activities, like keeping tabs on where the talk has got to, and keeping the structure fresh in the audience’s mind.

Signposting in a longer talk becomes more important. The speaker must provide a thread to help the audience to find their way through the maze. He or she must remember how limited any listener’s span of attention is, and offer regular directions for the lost travellers. The basic rule is that the receiver of the message always needs more explanation than the speaker thinks he does, because he is not as familiar with the material.

In a longer talk some technique must be found to interrupt the monologue with a different activity every five or ten minutes. Break up long stretches of time by strategically timed visual aids. An alternative is to schedule occasional brief periods of discussion to provide relief. The audience are stretching their legs mentally, if they are given a chance to talk themselves. The discussion period doesn’t need to be long; a few minutes relaxed talking as a group will help the listeners approach the next section of the talk feeling refreshed. If the speaker breaks up a long talk, and provides variety in this way, the audience will experience it as several short talks rather than one long one.

All this advice on how to reduce the burden of listening by breaking up a long period into shorter ones is not based on laziness. Psychological research gives clear evidence that shorter sessions improve learning. The early work on memory showed the importance of rest periods. Hermann Ebbinghaus, for example showed that the efficiency of learning improved when he included short periods of rest between learning sessions. At first he was surprised by this, since he expected periods of rest to cause people to forget some of what they had just learned, and so reduce the overall amount of learning. But he realized that the reminiscence effect was causing learning to improve. The conclusion from the experiments was that both primacy and recency increase the efficiency of a learning session which is punctuated by breaks. A single session benefits from primacy and recency only at the beginning and the end. But if the learning task is broken into several shorter sessions, with breaks in between, there are more occasions when the primacy and recency effects can assist learning.

It seems that the memory, like some muscles, tires easily, but recovers quickly. Ebbinghaus’s results showed quite clearly that the benefit of a break increased as the length of the break increased up to a maximum of ten minutes. After that, lengthening the break to a quarter or half an hour made no difference. The result has been confirmed by many subsequent researchers. This is why most effective courses and conferences schedule ten minute breaks every hour or so. It is also why a presentation which lasts more than ten minutes needs to have built in variety, and breaks of various kinds, so that the listeners can recover their mental energy. The key to an effective talk is variety, whether the talk is long or short. And the key to an effective longer talk is to break it down by whatever means available into a sequence of shorter sessions. If you spend time devising ways of breaking up the long session, you will be rewarded by an alert and attentive audience.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Generating Audience Attention To The Speech- Important Aspect For The Speaker

Communication is a great skill to possess. And speaking skill is an important corner stone of overall communication. During speaking, speaker need to generate audience's attention to the speech. Without attention, it is very difficult for the speaker to share their ideas with their audience successfully. And in that case, total communication failed. So to have an effective communication, speaker need to generate enough attention in to the speech so that he can gain success in his speaking skill as well as in the total communication.

After making clear who and what you are, you must launch into your subject without delay. Don’t beat about the bush for several minutes, get into the meat of the subject straight away. One way of starting the talk is to put a question in the audiences’ minds. Do they know how the raw material for the process is prepared? Have they thought about whether the I/O routines can be speeded up? Do they realize the financial drain on profitability which spoilage causes? Such a tactic focuses their attention on the issue, and helps them to listen positively to the information which follows it.

Another way of directing attention to a problem is an arresting quotation from a dissatisfied customer. Another way might be a photograph of a structure which has collapsed. It is also useful to point out how the present talk fits into previous talks, and a question related to the last presentation will help to remind the audience of what they already know, and how this new presentation will fit in. All these tactics have one central aim—to make sure the listeners realize what the purpose of the talk is, so they can fit the new information they are being given during the talk into a familiar conceptual pattern. Often speakers ignore this need to bring the subject into sharp focus at the beginning of the talk. In many presentations the consequences of neglect of the ideas and information are described at the end, rather than the beginning. In one lecture on dietary control, for instance, slides of the deformities which resulted from malnutrition were shown at the end; they would have been better shown at the beginning, so the audience could visualize the problems to be solved. ‘These show what can happen; what can we do to prevent it?’ would have made an excellent opening to the talk.

Asking questions is the best way to promote thought. Such questions may be only rhetorical, and not expect an answer from the audience, but Sime and Boyce showed that rhetorical questions raised the level of attention, and improved the amount of learning.1 We are so conditioned to provide answers to sentences in question form, that our minds are subconsciously aroused towards an answer, even if we remain silent. Asking questions is an effective way of introducing a topic.

Other methods may also be used to increase interest and arousal. Advertisers typically use irrelevant messages about sex, status and emotions before selling their product. In the same way a stimulating fact or picture will arouse the audience and improve their reception of a quite different message which may follow. Remember Hillaire Belloc’s aphorism: ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them that you’ve told them.’ The job of the introductory sentences is to arouse interest in what you are going to tell them, by telling them. Then the talk can go on to expand the subject, assured of attention from the listeners.

The need to arouse and prepare the audience is confirmed by psychological research. Many experiments show that unless the receiver is guided in how to decode the message, he may perceive something different. Psychologists have shown that knowledge about what a person is going to hear can change what he thinks he does hear:

The English psychologist David Bruce recorded a set of ordinary sentences and played them in the presence of noise so intense that the voice was just audible, but not intelligible. He told his listeners that these were sentences on some general topic—sports, say—and asked them to repeat what they heard. He then told them that they would hear more sentences on a different topic, which they were also to repeat. This was done several times. Each time the listeners repeated sentences appropriate to the topic announced in advance. When at the end of the experiment Bruce told them that they had heard the same recording every time—all he had changed was the topic they were given—most listeners were unable to believe it. With an advance hypothesis about what the message will be we can tune our perceptual system to favour certain impressions and reject others.

We may think that the experiment was unfair on the listeners; perhaps they were only trying to please when they invented sentences! But the central fact remains; we hear what we expect to hear. Therefore, if what is going to be said in a talk is announced at the beginning, the listeners more easily receive the message. Another experiment supports the same conclusion. Psychologists measured the effect of mental ‘set’ in perception by asking their subjects to repeat words which were flashed quickly in front of them, but after they were given different expectations about what they were going to see. In a typical experiment people were briefly shown the name of an animal, such as ‘horse’. One group were told they would see the name of an animal, another that they would see the name of a flower, and the third only that they would see a word. People who were expecting to see the name of an animal recognized the word most quickly and made fewest mistakes. People who were not expecting to see any particular word did second best. And those who were expecting to see the name of a flower made most mistakes when shown the name of an animal. They also reacted more slowly.

Listening to a complicated explanation, or a mass of unfamiliar facts, is similar to seeing words flashed too briefly in front of your eyes, or listening to a voice over a harsh mash of noise. They are all situations where the message must be disentangled from distractions. What the audience is told about the subject of the talk will condition what they understand the talk to be about. This is why it is so important to arouse interest in the subject, and be clear about what the purpose and content of the talk is going to be, in the first few minutes of the talk.

It is surprising how easily people are misled by what they expect to see, rather than what they actually do see. Abercrombie uses the following example. Read these labels quickly:

  • ONCE
  • BIRD

Only when asked to look more carefully do most people notice that the ‘a’ and ‘the’ are repeated in the middle of the phrase. We don’t expect to see it, and therefore we don’t see it. But if we are told, we see it easily. Telling people what they are about to perceive will radically affect what they do perceive. The conclusion for the speaker is clear. Telling your audience in advance what to expect is an essential part of presenting information to them. In the face of such clear evidence, it is inexcusable to omit the preparation and warning phase of the talk. The subject must be made clear in the opening moments of the presentation.