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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.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Opening Of The Speech: Very Critical For Success

Speaking is a great skill. Through speaking you are sharing your ideas with your audience. If you can successfully communicate then they will influenced by your ideas and their leel of influence is the parameter to measure your success as a speaker. And to have success in speaking, we need to have a good Opening.

You have now reached that long dreaded moment—you have to stand up and start speaking. What do you say? How do you get started? Remember that the primacy effect will ensure that what you say in the first few sentences will be among the best remembered parts of the talk, remember that first impressions are lasting impressions: so how are you going to get started effectively? As with everything in speaking, thought makes the problem easier. There are a variety of starting tactics, and you can select between them on the basis of your own experience, as well as the type of audience. The opening which every speaker wants to make, but few succeed in pulling off, is the dramatic start with an arresting fact, quotation, or remark. Something surprising, exciting, disturbing, or plain unusual; something which will make the audience gasp with admiration, and sit up to take notice for the rest of the talk.

Not many speakers manage this effect, though everyone seems to dream of it. If you have such a fact or idea, it is certainly worth trying, for it does have the effect of alerting the listeners, and focusing their minds on the subject of the presentation. But it is difficult to achieve just the right tone of confidence, and drama, in the first sentences. One problem is that it is often difficult to get the first few words in the right tone, volume, and steadiness. Only when the voice has warmed up, can it be relied upon to produce the right effect. It is often more sensible, particularly if you are inexperienced as a speaker, to start with the simple matters of fact that the audience need to know.

What questions will be in the audience’s minds at the beginning of the talk? To being with, simple practical matters like what is the talk about? Who are you? What are your qualifications, experience, and interests? How will it help them? Why should it interest them? What right have you to be speaking to them on this topic? These are the questions likely to be occupying the audience’s minds, and they will need an answer before they will open their minds to the information you have to give. They will not make their memories available to you until they are sure the effort will not be wasted. If you do not satisfy some of these points, the lingering doubt will corrupt the input of information, and continue to interfere with their perception of your message.

Satisfying these questions is so important that even if you do start with a successful attention jerker, you will need to indicate answers to most of these questions within the first few minutes. You may have been introduced by a chairperson, who should have covered these points. But if he or she hasn’t, try to fill in the missing details. It is undoubtedly much easier to listen to someone if you know exactly who and what they are, and what they are talking about. The easiest opening tactic is to reinforce what the chairperson said in introducing you. Extend it, fill in the gaps, but do not just repeat it. It gets you off the ground with the talk, and once you have started, it is easier to carry on talking.

The first task, then, is to establish rapport with the audience, gaining its confidence, and thereby making it prepared to give attention. To do this, explain how and why you are there, and what previous contacts you have had with this and similar organizations. It is also wise to check that you can be heard. These preparatory stages should not be allowed to take a lot of time; but briefly and clearly stated they are useful opening tactics. Thus, for example, a speaker’s first sentences might be:

I’ve been invited by Dr. XXXXXX to talk to you about the software of voice-recognition programs. I worked on this problem for nearly ten years with JCN, a company very similar to yours. I now run my own software house, and have talked to many groups like yours. Incidentally, can you hear me all right at the back? I’m going to talk for about 30 minutes on three main topics…
To ensure that these important points are not missed, construct your opening sentences from a check list, such as this. Don’t launch into an autobiography, each point needs only a single phrase, but it is useful for the audience to know these things:
  1. Who invited me here, or arranged the talk?
  2. What is the title of the talk?
  3. Have I given a presentation to this, or any similar organization before?
  4. What is my present job, or status, in which organization?
  5. Can they hear me at the back?
  6. How long am I going to talk for?
  7. What are the main sections in my talk?
If you draft simple answers to these questions, and mention them in the first minute of your talk, you will help to ensure that the audience is content to listen to you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Keep Breathing space for memory During Speech

During the body of the talk, it is too easy for ideas to become jumbled together in the listeners’ minds. Unless the speaker is careful to mark the sections with clear signposts, the landscape of the talk will merge into a blur, and few details of the mental journey will be remembered. Where new ideas interfere with ones previously presented there exists what psychologists call ‘retroactive’ interference. Where old ideas interfere with those following (perhaps because they are so arresting that the listener’s mind is still partly dwelling on them) psychologists call it ‘proactive’ interference. The technical terms are not important, but the principle is. Memory depends on clear space around important ideas and facts, and rest or silence is the best form of clear space.

Despite every care, it is still not possible for a speaker to ensure that everything he says is remembered. Partly this is just an inescapable fact of mental life. People forget. Forgetting itself is an interesting subject and psychologists have suggested a number of reasons for forgetting. They include repression, a word coined by Freud to describe the way people force out of consciousness events and ideas which for some reason they do not want to remember. Motivation is as important in forgetting as it is in remembering. Quite slight motives can lead to forgetting, such as an embarrassing professional lapse, which may lead to all information surrounding the situation being repressed.

Other causes of forgetting are the decay of the memory traces for physical reasons, interference from other similar memories, and loss of the ability to locate the memory. According to this last hypothesis, all memories are retained in the brain, but retrieving them is too difficult. Recalling other features of the experience, or working gradually back into our memories, will often enable us to discover memories we had thought lost. Thus my father, writing his autobiography for his grand children in his seventy-second year, started re-telling an incident in which a school-fellow had died of meningitis. To his surprise he found he could remember the boy’s name, and even his address. He had not remembered those facts for sixty years, and certainly could not have recalled them had he been asked. The ‘search’ theory of memory claims that forgetting happens when more and more memories are built up without enough features to differentiate between them. Unless simple clues are given to act as handles, it becomes harder and harder to find any particular fact, from the mass of detail in the memory.

Let me make three final points about memory before concluding this section. The first point is that it is useful to distinguish between active and passive memories. Faces seen at a meeting, for example, remain familiar if we meet them again, even though we may not be able to place a name on them. The image of almost every face we see is retained in the memory; but voluntary access to the information has been lost. Recognition is passive; active recall requires a pathway into the memory. Effective memory relies on clear structures being developed to retain access, and not just on the vividness of the memory itself. The speaker’s task, therefore, is to provide this unforgetable structure, without which the detail amassed in the talk will be lost, like water poured onto sand.

The need for organization to help active memory leads me to the second point. Unless we can see a structure in the details, they are less meaningful, and therefore much more difficult to retain in memory.

It is immediately obvious that learning the first list would be a major task, whereas the middle list is only moderately hard, and the last list is perfectly easy to remember. The conclusion for the speaker is obvious; break up similar facts into patterns. Remember that you must link new ideas into existing ones, using a clear structure, if you want your audience to remember them

The third and final point about memory is a more hopeful one. It is a strange fact that we are usually modest about our memories. Hans Eysenck comments that:

"when you ask most people about their memory, the first thing they usually say is that they have the bad luck to have a very poor memory. There is an interesting contrast here with what happens when you ask people about their intelligence or sense of humour: only a very small percentage of people will admit to below-average intelligence or a poor sense of humour!"

The memory is extraordinarily powerful, much better than we think. When tested on their memory of ten thousand pictures, people recognized 99.6% of them correctly. As the researcher commented: “the recognition of pictures is essentially perfect”. The brain is highly sophisticated and memory itself has no visible limits. The audience could remember much more than they often do; the amount is not limited by any natural maximum capacity. If the speaker prepares his talk in a way which provides the opportunities for memory, and offers a clear scaffolding of organization on which the memories can be hung, there is no limit to what the audience can be
helped to remember.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The structure of reasoning Is Very Important For Preparation of Speaking

The third job of preparation, after selecting the relevant material, and organizing it in a clear and simple structure, is to form the details into a coherent argument. Every talk has a case to argue, unless it has no more structure than a telephone directory. The way this case is argued, the way the details are marshalled as evidence for the points being made, is an important part of the planning.

The first point is that you cannot make the argument complete, and prove every point and detail. Spoken argument can only sketch the outlines of the case. It gives an emphasis and immediacy, through personal involvement, and immediate feedback from the audience, but it does not give a forum for the fine points and the mechanics of scientific proof. Speaking can only offer the bold outlines of proof, not the inner workings, of the argument. The details are better written down. So if you have to present a case which has a detailed proof, you must summarize, give a few salient details, and refer your audience to the published papers, or internal reports.

Skimming over the details of reasoning does not relieve the speaker of the need to be accurate. It is wise to avoid apparently spurious argument; the audience will spot it. Ogden and Richards warn about the ‘process of ‘lubrication’, the art of greasing the descent from the premises to the conclusion.’ While such a process may seem attractive, you should not imagine that the audience is less sharp, just because they have fewer details. They have more time to think, and will be able to bridge the gap between generalizations, to work out the details for themselves. Unless the story hangs together, they will not believe what you say. Accuracy is just as important in spoken presentations, as it is in published papers.

The art of conveying an argument in a spoken presentation lies, then, in the selection of the examples to use. Most scientific arguments are based on induction. But you should never try to offer complete induction, listing tables of figures and results. In a talk you can only state the hypothesis, use a few illustrative examples of the kind of results obtained, and state the conclusions. Of course, you must make sure that the examples you give are typical. One way to do this is also to give exceptions to validate the examples, and forestall criticisms.

The old adage is: ‘The exception proves the rule’. This saying, incidentally, is usually misunderstood, because ‘proof means test, as in ‘proof spirit, or ‘proving’ a gun. The adage means that the rule is checked by the exception. Can the exception dent or explode the rule you are trying to prove? Will the rule survive? The purpose of giving exceptions is to see whether the exception can be explained away as an irrelevance, not a true exception, or an example of some other rule altogether. If not, then the rule must of course be modified to take account of the facts which it does not satisfactorily explain.

The psychology of audiences requires that an attempt is made to illustrate a rule, or general conclusion, with obvious and typical facts, as well as apparent exceptions. The speaker’s job is to allay doubts, and calm suspicions, not to produce cast iron proofs. He has also to explain and clarify the rule, and exemplification is often the best way of explaining, as well as the best way of justifying, a conclusion. But as speaker you should never lose sight of the role of examples as aids to the audience, rather than as elements in a scientific method. If you keep this distinction in mind, you will be able to persuade yourself when preparing the talk that not all details, facts and figures are relevant to the task. A carefully selected set of illustrative examples is all that the structure of the reasoning requires in verbal presentation.

In considering the type of examples to choose, the speaker must find what will be easiest for the audience to understand in the limited time available. Thus, there is evidence that human beings prefer direct proof to indirect proof. That is to say they prefer to be shown that something is the cause, not that all the other possibilites can not be the cause. This seems to be because of the universal tendency to cognitive economy: in other words people like the simple and direct route to a conclusion, rather than one which requires sustained attention, a sharp memory, and active deduction. So the wise speaker will construct his argument as a direct, not an indirect, proof. The aim should be to give strong, simple arguments, which offer clear, uncomplicated reasons, not elaborate and intricate analyses.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Organization of Material: Important Part of Preparation For Speaking

An early decision you must make when preparing a talk, is how are you going to organize the material. Read through the notes you have gathered, selecting what is most useful, and considering the best arrangement. No talk which is nothing but detail from beginning to end will have much permanent effect; nor will a talk which appears to make only one point. Research shows quite clearly that the listeners remember better, and remember more, if they have a sense of the shape of the talk. Any subject can be broken up into separate points. Even if your talk is about one chemical reaction, say, you can break it down into an overview, the raw materials, the theory of the process, the construction of the reactor vessels, the control and supervision of the reaction, the discharge and customer delivery problems, and a general summary of the process. In this way, one subject becomes several points. The listeners must be able to grasp the structure of the talk: make sure that you make the overall pattern of your presentation plain to the audience.

The only way to make a pattern plain is to make it bold. Since a grasp of the pattern is so important to a satisfactory sense of understanding, the best technique is to make each individual section, as well as the overall pattern, simple, logical and clear. Most speakers fail to realize just how strong and stark this pattern must be. They forget how much contrast is needed to make the picture stand out. Because they are familiar with it themselves, they do not realize that the audience, not quite awake anyway, may find a new subject confusing.

I heard one talk which had been a confusing drone of detail: but when asked the speaker insisted that his notes were clearly structured into five different sections. He had simply failed to make it clear to the listeners when he was moving from section to section. It was clear enough to him—he had his notes in front of him. But the audience couldn’t see the notes, and were mystified every time the subject seemed to have changed without warning. It is almost impossible to make the structure too clear: the listeners need to grasp the shape, pattern, or structure of the talk so that they have a framework to hang all the details on. Unless they perceive this structure, they will be left with a mass of shapeless details. The job of the speaker is to make the framework clear. It is difficult to overdo that job.

The choice of pattern is the next important decision to be made in preparing the talk. Ask yourself whether the arrangement of information you have chosen has a discernible pattern. If so, is that pattern suitable for the type of audience, the type of talk, and the subject matter (in that order)? Most important, will the audience perceive that pattern? It is very difficult to understand, when we have seen a pattern ourselves, that others may not be able to see it. Yet there is evidence that seeing a pattern is something which is learned, not something inevitable. For example, when the Pygmies in the Congo jungles were first shown black and white photographs they could see nothing but an abstract pattern of black and white blobs. They had to learn to perceive this flat, apparently random sheet of blobs and smears as an image which imitated the real three dimensional world. Your audience may be like the Pygmies in their understanding of the pattern of organization in your presentation. Make sure that you explain the structure of the talk, so that lack of familiarity will not make the listeners see your talk as a random maze.

Psychologists have done much research on how we perceive patterns, and what sort of patterns are most easily understood by human minds. It is worth pausing for a few pages, to look at this work, because it illustrates very clearly what the speaker must do if he or she wants his audience to understand. I have chosen four topics in the perception of patterns to start you thinking about the kind of organization a talk needs. The first of these is Gestalt psychology, the second is the importance of our sense of place, the third is the significance of patterns of seven elements, and the fourth is the way we chunk details to make them easier to understand and remember.

The first topic I want to explore is the theories of the Gestalt psychologists. A group of early experimental psychologists working in Germany, the Gestalt psychologists, showed in a series of elegant experiments that human beings naturally see patterns in the objects around them. This tendency was universal, and was a powerful element in human understanding of reality. We grasped the mass of detail in the real world, only by seeing it as part of a pattern. The Gestalt psychologists formulated laws for the type of patterns which were most easily perceived by the human mind. It is wise to follow these rules in the construction of a pattern of organization, because they define what will be seen as a pattern, and what will be seen as a jumble. Max Wertheimer suggested five laws— similarity, proximity, closure, good continuation and membership character—which the mind used to impose order through pattern.

Obviously, patterns can be most easily made from things which are similar, and close together. Five trees of the same kind, standing in a group on the sky line, will always be seen as a pattern. So will three blue cars of the same make next to each other in a car park. And so will the three advantages of several different kinds of software, when balanced against the three disadvantages of each kind. Closure, and good continuation are more technical ideas. Human beings want things to be complete, and we will often make the completion ourselves if it doesn’t exist in reality.

A drawing of a circle which has a gap in it will be seen, and remembered, as a complete circle. Similarly, if the talk about software only mentioned two disadvantages in the third of the types, most people in the audience will remember three disadvantages for each type. They will even invent the missing disadvantage, or transfer it from another type, to make a complete pattern of disadvantages. Good continuation is a similar requirement in patterns. If a line is continuous, we can see it as a pattern more easily than if it has large, random gaps. Usually, we fill in these gaps ourselves. Thus the line in the middle of the road is seen as a line, even though it is half bare asphalt surface, and half short white dashes.

Finally, membership character means that it is easier to perceive a pattern if the objects all seem to belong to the same group. Thus it will be easier to remember a group of points if they all belong to the same topic. A talk about five important engineering principles in bridge design, with one section on the power output of modern engines, would fail on this principle. Most of the audience would perceive the section on engines as a digression; they would remember only the five principles, and probably also remember that there were some red herrings in the talk. If, however, the talk had been presented as six principles of engineering, applied to metal structures, such as bridges, engines, and steel framing, it would have been grasped as a pattern.

The results of Gestalt psychology are widely accepted. The ideas can be applied to ensure that the organization of a talk has a pattern which is easy to grasp. If the structure of the talk fits in comfortably with the natural way the human mind grasps patterns, it will be better understood and better remembered. Try to use the principles in laying out your talk using similar sections, clearly part of the same topic, and all related to and continuous with each other.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughtful Selection: The First Thing Speaker Should Do During Preparation

Speaking is always very much critical point to have effective communication. An expert who have effective communication skill always need to have good command over speaking skill. Effective speaking skill will always help people to build an effective communication etween people through building rapport and exchanging feedbacks. You have to work hard to improve your speaking skill as to improve your effective communication skill. In this regard, i am here discussing the phase where you need to select what you are going to deliver through your speech.

The first important decision in making a selection of material is what you are going to leave out, not what you are going to put in. Talks are not for the transfer of a mass of information from one mind to others. That job is better done by paper. They are best used to give an overview of the subject, to create interest and enthusiasm. If you are already expert in a subject, you must now decide what the audience don’t need to know; if you have to work on a new subject, as soon as you have understood it, you will have to make decisions about what is not needed in the talk.

It is a mistake to try to pad the talk out with masses of information and detail, in the belief that the audience will be impressed by your knowledge. They won’t be—they will simply go to sleep. The amount of information which can be absorbed in one session when listening is strictly limited. The listening situation is quite different from sitting down with a book at a desk, and making notes. When listening, it is not possible to do more than gain an overall impression, and perhaps a handful of facts. Hard, dense packed information, cannot be communicated in talks; it is a mistake to try.

This fact is common experience—think how many actual details you remember from the last technical talk you heard—but it is encouraging to find it supported by research. Erskine and O’Morchoe did an experiment, in which they taught one class only essential principles with little detail, and then compared their knowledge with another class which had been given a lot of details. The first class did better. Their conclusion was that too much material causes interference, and the audience remember less, not more.

Too much detail, then, is counter-productive in a talk (to use one of the familiar buzz-words of the 1970s). Factual information can only be used as illustration, or example, never as the substance of the talk. A verbal presentation communicates attitudes, enthusiasms, impressions, not facts. To try to battle against this natural situation will only alienate the audience, and reduce, not increase, the amount of information that is remembered. If you use cleverly designed visual aids, you may be able to incorporate a few figures and hard facts. But you certainly cannot expect the talk to be the source of reference for this information.

If you need to transfer a mass of solid figures, it is best to give a handout, with the figures tabulated for reference. You can then refer to a sample selection of the figures during the presentation, to illustrate the general point. But the aim of the talk should not be to learn detail. If you are talking on a technical subject, the audience should leave the talk with a desire to go further into the subject, or an impression of the range of complexity the subject embraces. They should not, and cannot, expect to walk out of the room with a mass of figures, facts, and details securely pinned inside their heads. Talks don’t do this. Detailed learning has to be done with paper at a desk; talks are for interest and general information, not the transfer of a dense mass of information.

The first task, then, is to select the material, and reduce the bulk of detail to manageable proportions. Selection, however, requires an aim, and this aim must be specific, not vague. It is impossible to make decisions about whether to reject, or leave in, a particular fact unless there is a very definite image of the audience and its aims in mind. So you must always select your material not for a general talk on the subject, but for a specific speaking task: for this audience, this task, and this amount of time. One consequence of this rule is that each talk you give must be considered separately. A general purpose talk will probably result in a vague presentation which will satisfy none of its audiences.

Another factor which must be considered when selecting information is the unloading rate, and the digestibility of what you are saying. People who are experts in a subject often fail to remember that it has taken them many years to get their minds around it all, and that what seems second nature to them now, may be confusing and alarming to a newcomer. The rate at which new information is offered is an important factor in the ability of the mind to absorb it. This factor, often not even considered, is so important that it is worth spending a little time on it.

Typically, experts assume the audience can absorb information faster than they actually can. I have rarely seen an expert making his subject too simple. So it is fairly safe to assume that you must introduce new ideas more slowly than you think necessary, and never more quickly. There are many techniques available to modify the rate at which new information is provided. You can, for example, modify the rate by repetition, example and anecdote. Simply repeating the same information in different words effectively halves the unloading rate. You can also open up more breathing space between ideas by adding new examples, which illustrate the same point, and you can provide a rest, while focusing on the same point, by including some amusing anecdote which relates to it.

One technique to ease the shock of new information is like getting into cold water by taking a wild plunge. It works by giving the audience a full list of the topics and key words at the beginning of the talk. This is the sudden plunge, and they will then need reassuring that it is not as frightening as it sounds. You can then go back to the beginning, and start again with the first point, slowly making it clear. It is worth spending rather longer on the first point, giving lots of examples and supporting information, because if the audience can be made to understand the first point, they will approach the rest with more confidence. By shocking the audience with their inability to comprehend the whole subject, and then proving to them that they can, after all, be brought to understand the first point they come to, you will boost their confidence in their ability to learn.

Mix old and new Material in Your Speech

Another way of reducing the unloading rate is to ensure that there is a mixture of old and new information. Some speakers seem to think that they must retail only new facts, and can ignore the old facts. This is not so. The old facts are the foundations on which the new facts must be built. These foundations will be buried under all the other daily information the audience must cope with. You must uncover, bring to light, or remind the audience of what they already know before adding new information. It also controls the overall unloading rate. A mixture of familiar facts amongst the new reduces the total strain on memory and comprehension. It gives the audience a satisfying feeling of competence. The feeling of smugness, in the unspoken reaction ‘we know that’, will transfer to a feeling of interest and respect if it is followed by the reaction, ‘but we didn’t know that’. If, just when the feeling is becoming, ‘we can’t cope with all this’, you introduce more familiar material, the audience will feel themselves on firm ground again. By alternating familiar and strange, new and old, the audience’s comprehension is kept flexible and alert.

The technique of mixing familiar and new is supported by theorists of communication. Umberto Eco makes a technical point about the communication of information, which confirms this important principle in selecting information. The content of a presentation cannot be all new; some of it must be familiar, even repetitious, in order to orientate, and rest, the listener’s mind. Eco insists that there must be:

communication dialectic between probability and improbability (that is between the obvious and the new—and ultimately, in a more technical phraseology, between meaning and information). A high rate of improbability runs the risk of not being received, and therefore the message must be tempered in small degree with conventionalities, commonplaces, and must be reiterated…One of the problems in message-coding is the balance between the obvious and the new. How few conventionalities are necessary to communicate a piece of information (as a new thing?).

To achieve this controlled unloading rate, with a mixture of familiar and new information, you must carefully select the examples and analogies. Of course, it is not possible to give a formula for the exact unloading rate appropriate for a particular audience, or to provide an infallible rule so your presentation will be just right. But this doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have thought about the problem, and are aware that you must watch the rate at which you put out new ideas.

Judging the selection of material is more a matter of conscious awareness, than of perfect correctness. Thinking is what matters; don’t blunder on oblivious. Audiences are flexible, subjects have many different ways in which they can be presented, there is usually a willingness to learn in the audience, and an ability to figure it out for themselves. The only rules are to remain aware of audience reaction as you talk, and be prepared to modify what you are saying if blank incomprehension, or glazed stares of boredom, meet what you have said so far.

Vivid and entertaining examples are often the best way to engage an audience’s attention, and to ease the passage of new information. But this does not mean that you should load example after example onto an already satiated audience. Avoid indiscriminate use of all the examples you can think of; choose only the best ones. The examples and analogies you do use must be brief, familiar and concrete. It is often difficult to think of good examples, and one writer on the subject, Donald Bligh, admits that, ‘Personally I find that I can never think of good examples at the time of lecturing. They therefore have to be prepared in advance. In fact it is quite a good idea to collect examples at all times.’ Following the second principle of this chapter, it is a good plan to have more examples than you need, and to make a selection as you talk, depending on which type of examples seems to strike a sympathetic chord, and how much relaxation, or increase, of the unloading rate the situation requires.

There is no doubt that the best way to make the talk memorable is to use materials which are specially relevant to the audience, dramatic, or simply funny. But this can go too far. One speaker, a most distinguished man in his own field, tried to make his lectures memorable in an unusual way. Gray Walter, the famous neurologist, ‘asserted that essential ingredients of a successful lecture were humour, horror and sex. To provide for this alleged desire for sensation, in an erudite lecture on ‘Brain mechanisms and learning’ he used coloured backgrounds for tabulated data in which such outlines as bathing beauties were engraved in white.’ The problem with such tactics is that the audience can sense when they are being pandered to, and soon resent it.

To set out to entertain before anything else will not only fail to communicate the necessary information, it will probably lose the respect of the audience as well. The ideal, as in everything to do with speaking, is to provide as much change and variety as possible. So mix theory with anecdotes; and mix humour with serious points. If you have just given a dry, detailed and strenuous exposition, lighten the atmosphere with an amusing story. And if you have just told a long anecdote, take the opportunity to emphasize a complex theoretical point immediately afterwards. In this way the audience is kept alert by the ever changing demands being made on their attention.

Preparation Is Very Important for Any Speaker

Communication effectively is an art. Effective communication required a people to share his/her thoughts with audience. Speaking is the way of sharing their thoughts. So effective speaking skill is very important to achieve success in communication. And to have such success in communication, it is required that people need to develop their communication skill. Here, i will discuss about the preparation part of speaking which is very important to have success in communication.

If I were asked to give a one word explanation of the sort of confident, organized presentation we all envy, it would be preparation. The confidence comes from the speaker’s knowledge that he or she has everything ready, has thought through the whole subject, and has enough of the right material to support the presentation. The sense of organization comes from the careful arrangements and selection of what is said, so that all the points are part of a logical order. Neither of these virtues are available to the speaker who bets on his luck (or cheek) and just talks off the cuff. Good speakers are prepared.

How do you achieve this? It is as much to do with the audience’s abilities as the speaker’s, and it is about the logic of organization, as much as the psychology of presentation. But the aim of all the advice is the same—that secure and admirable sense of being well prepared. There are two simple pieces of advice which start this process of preparation in the right way. Firstly, ask yourself what the aim of the talk is, rather than what the subject of the talk is. The first is much more specific than the second. If you plan to talk about a particular subject, you may feel the need to mention everything there is to know about that subject. But if the aim of the talk is to arouse the audience’s enthusiasm for a research project on that topic, a brief sketch of the more exciting possibilities would be more relevant. A complete catalogue of every aspect will merely bore them, and will achieve exactly the opposite result.

There are many cases where the aim may be rather different from the subject. The advantage of thinking about the aim is also that thenthe decisions include the audience, and the audience’s perceptions and needs, not just the speaker’s ideas and knowledge. In practice, a very common mistake is to prepare a presentation as a speech on, for example, ‘Heavy water reactors’, without thinking whether the audience is interested in technical details or scare stories. If the aim is to reassure a local population that the heavy water reactor being built next to them is perfectly safe, then a lot of technical details about the design will probably scare them witless! Think of all your decisions when preparing the talk in terms of what you want the talk to achieve, and not in terms of what the bare topic of the talk is.

The second piece of simple advice is to prepare more material than you need. The idea of preparing ‘just the right amount’ is foolish. Until you start talking, you won’t really know how much material you are going to get through, And if you insist on battling on to the bitter end of what you have prepared, you will almost certainly get the timing wrong, as well as turning the talk into a marathon. Talking should never be a dutiful forced march, it should always be an exploration, a discussion, a fascinating glimpse of the subject. It is an opportunity to learn about something new, which has to stop when the allotted time runs out. The best talks all end too soon, and the sense of having more to say, but having no more time, is the most satisfactory impression to leave.

The talk is also more interesting if the audience feel you are stepping smartly through the topic, summarizing far deeper knowledge and just mentioning the more interesting aspects. This impression is created if the speaker has more material than he needs at his finger tips; the need to summarize and curtail while he or she talks keeps up the level of tension, interest, and expectation. An audience should never come out of a talk feeling that the subject, like them, is exhausted. They should always be fired, rather than quenched. This happens best, if you prepare more material than you need. The habit of having extra material also allows you flexibility in timing when giving the talk, and helps you to answer questions at the end.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Etiquette's of E-mail Writing

There are some basic ground rules to observe for business e-mail. Above all, be courteous. Remember that the recipient of your message is probably extremely busy. Be respectful, but don’t sound cloying. Put simply, show consideration for the person receiving the message.

If you are writing as a representative of your firm, especially to someone you don’t know, it’s best to err on the side of a more formal tone. This includes spelling out words and limiting your use of abbreviations.

Although you should aim for precision in all your communications, language is often clipped, capitalization is sometimes neglected, and abbreviations may pop up in informal e-mails. For example, many e-mail users dispense with capitalization in e-mails to recipients they know well, since writing in lowercase is much faster and easier—especially when using a handheld device such as a Treo or a BlackBerry.

Internet shorthand—using acronyms or abbreviations for common phrases, such as “TNT” for “till next time,” “TTYL” for “talk to you later,” or “SYS” for “see you soon”—is increasingly finding its way into e-mail business communication. But this abbreviated form of writing may be too casual and even playful for some work environments, so make sure that Internet shorthand is accepted in your organization before you use it.

Use abbreviations or acronyms only in your e-mail exchanges with coworkers or others who understand the lingo, and be sure you know what the terms you use stand for. Some might be a substitute for profane language, and some recipients may find them offensive.

When responding to several people at once, be careful about using the “Reply to all” option and inadvertently passing on other people’s e-mail addresses. Few things do worse damage to your business reputation than being careless with someone’s personal information.

Finally, don’t send a time-sensitive e-mail too late in the business day for people to respond to it, or so that you can put off discussing an important matter. Also, avoid sending messages when you know recipients may not have access to their accounts or will be unable to respond in a timely fashion. Your e-mail is going to be received in a much better spirit if it doesn’t seem strategically timed to the person’s disadvantage.

Dos and Don'ts during writing Business Emails:

Set an example for your employees and peers by practicing good e-mail etiquette (or “netiquette”).
  • Do reply promptly to e-mails.
  • Do be polite, but not verbose— make your point quickly.
  • Don’t respond to chain letters.
  • Don’t type in capital letters. It’s the e-mail equivalent of SHOUTING.
  • Don’t include too many hyperlinks or elaborate formatting.
  • Do be selective when sending replies to all recipients.
  • Do use the blind carbon copy (bcc) function for an e-mail with a large distribution list to avoid publishing all the recipients’ addresses.
  • Do close with an e-mail signature.
  • Do not respond to a recipient in an e-mail on which you’ve been blind-copied.

7 Step Approach to Communicate with Angry People

The key then to defusing these types of situations and handling them more confidently is as follows:

  • get the right inner voice
  • use the right body language
  • apply critical listening
  • summarize what the other person has said to check that you have properly understood the situation. (This also reassures them that you have actually listened to them)
  • apologize if necessary and empathize
  • ask open questions
  • tell them what you are going to do to resolve the problem
And finally do it!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Communication with Angry People

It is never very easy communicating with angry people and when we are faced with anger we often go on the defensive, understandably so because it feels like we are being attacked, verbally! Our instinct is to either lash out (fight back) or run away (flight). Sometimes flight is the best option, distancing yourself before saying something you might regret later. Or if the angry person is coming at you with a knife, for example, then running away is decidedly the best option!

Getting angry with someone who is angry with you will only escalate the situation so it is best if you can deal with this as calmly and as assertively as possible.

Your inner voice is critical here. Instead of thinking ‘How dare this person speak to me like this’, which will only make you aggressive towards them, it is far better to tell yourself to keep calm, that you can handle it.

My own response to anger is to depersonalize it by thinking, ‘Why is this person behaving like this? There must be a reason.’ You need to keep an open mind as to what is causing that anger, trying to see it from the other person’s viewpoint.

When someone is angry it is not usually you they are angry with but the situation. Something has happened to make them angry. You need to deal with it before it escalates into a personal attack.

Get the right body language and inner voice

Body language is critical here. Keep your posture as upright and open as possible, telling yourself, ‘I can handle this, I can deal with this, I can keep calm.’ Take slow breaths. Keep your eye contact on the other person and lean towards them. This takes courage. Mirror the other person’s body language if you can but obviously if they are waving a fist at you it is not advisable to mirror this! What I mean is that if they are standing you should stand too, if they are sitting then sit down.

What to do next

Once you have got your inner voice under control and your body language right, listen hard to what they are saying. When people are angry they do not always express themselves clearly, in fact they rarely do. They let off steam. Allow them to do this and don’t interrupt them. Let them have their say. You can never reason with someone until they have worked their anger out. When they have said what they needed to say then you can start asking them questions but before you do this summarize what they have said, stating the position as they see it. This enables you to check that you have fully understood the situation and shows them that you have listened. Keep your voice assertive, i.e. steady and controlled, neither shouting nor mumbling.

For example:

‘So what you’re saying, Mr. Smith, is that we promised to come and see you on Thursday and after waiting in all day, no one turned up?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I had to take a whole day off work.’

Empathize if you need to and apologize if you or your organization is in the wrong.

‘I do apologize Mr. Smith. I recognize how irritating and inconvenient that must have been for you. Now, let me take some details and sort this out for you. What is the order number?’

Here I have apologized and empathized with him (well who wouldn’t?) and then asked him an open question to get the facts. By this time hopefully Mr. Smith is calming down.

Sometimes you can also de-escalate this situation by asking the angry person what action they would like you to take. This puts the initiative (and the solution) firmly back with them, sometimes taking them by surprise and catching them off guard.