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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.