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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.