Tips For Being A Better Communicator – On The Spot

A Summary of Think Fast, Talk Smart

This video is a from a workshop offered at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Matt Abrahams gives pointed advice on how to be a good speaker, not just in front of a group, but in the situations that most often trip people up – spontaneous speaking.

  • Making an Introduction
  • Giving feedback about a topic to your boss or in a meeting
  • Being asked to give a toast
  • Question and Answer Sessions

Managing Anxiety

85% of people report having anxiety about speaking in public. In 2014 in the USA when this statistic was researched, public speaking ranked in the top 5 most anxiety ridden experiences a person can go through. Other situations in the top 5 were identity theft and being caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. So, you could say 

In spite of this statistic, Abrahams argues that we should not seek to rid ourselves of anxiety completely. Rather, anxiety can be a good thing. Anxiety helps us:

  • Get focused
  • Get things done
  • Know what is important
So rather we should manage our anxiety. 

Greet Your Anxiety

Everyone gets anxious. When you notice you are getting anxious – acknowledge it. 

Take a deep breath and say, ‘This is me feeling anxious’.  This will not stop the anxiety. But it will keep it from spiraling out of control. Know that having anxiety it is normal and natural. 

There Is No Right or Wrong Way To Speak

Don’t look as speaking as a performance. Look at it as a conversation. Reframe the idea of speaking in your mind to make it more like a conversation. Abrahams gives some advice about how to improve your public speaking.

Start With a Question

If you are presenting, engauge your audience with some sort of a question. This opens a story gap in your audience’s mind and gets your audience paying attention. Think about your presentation as answering a series of questions. 

Even when you are outlining your speech, you can write a series of questions you will answer rather than topics you will cover. 

Use Conversational Language

The *hit list. Remove language that distances you from the audience. It has to do with the pronouns

Don't Say

  • Today we will cover step 1, step , step 3. 
  • One must consider the ramifications

Do Say

  • First what we need to do is this. The second thing you consider is here.

Bring Yourself To The Present Moment

Many nervous speakers are worried about the future consequences of their communication.  For example if you are thinking:

  • I might not get the funding
  • I might not get the laughs 
  • I might not get  the support that I want

If you can bring yourself to the present moment, it is much easier to be less nervous. Some tips for becoming more present:

  • Take a walk around the building
  • Listen to music
  • Count backwards from difficult numbers, like 17.
  • Say tongue twisters

Tongue twister gets you thinking about saying the phrase correctly rather than thinking about social pressures or future consequences.  

Improve - Shout The Wrong Name

If you are able, in a few moments, stand up and play this game. Point to something in the room and shout a completely different name for the object you are pointing towards. For example, if you are pointing at your phone, shout ‘flower’. 

As you are planning on starting this game, you might be thinking of a few words you can shout. This is our brain looking out for us and stockpiling responses so we can rock at the game later on. Although this is what our brains are designed to do, don’t stockpile. Rather, we want improvisational answers that are in the moment. 

There is no way to do this game incorrectly 

OK. Now Play the game. Start shouting!

Notice Anything?

Did you start shouting names of objects that are part of a category or group? Such as fruits, planets, or tools? Or maybe things that start with the letter ‘T’. 

Well, that is our brain ‘helping’ out again by giving you patters to work off of. But again, that is not how we want to play the game. 

The point is not to show how easily we can name categories of things we know super well. The point of this game is to improvise a completely wrong, unrelated name for the object we are pointing at. 

The point is to get ourselves out of our own way and be in the moment and to get ourselves out of our own way when communicating. We are working against the years of training we have built up where our brains are trying to get it ‘right’. Rather, just playing the game is getting it right. It helps us see the things that get in our way of acting spontaneously. 

We should respond not react. Reacting means to act again. 

Dare To Be Dull

Rather than striving for greatness, dare to be dull. If  you dare to be dull and allow your self that, you will reach greatness.

When you set greatness as your target it gets in the way of you ever getting there. Because you 

  • Over evaluate
  • Over analyse  
  • We freeze up  

See Speaking As An Opportunity

If you go into a situation where you are asked to speak as an Us VS Them situation, you will tend to give short answers in an effort to protect yourself. 

If you are looking at a chance to speak as an opportunity, you will be more likely to be conversational in nature. You will elaborate more and you will be more open and honest. This will lead you will be a more effective communicator in that moment. 

The Imaginary Gift Game

This game works with two people. The first person gives an imaginary box to the second person. The second person gets to open it up and say what was in the box. And it can be whatever the person receiving the gift thinks of in that moment.

Are you already thinking what you are going to say is in the box? Again, don’t stockpile answers. Come up with what is in the box in the moment. The same rules apply for this game as applied in the ‘Shout it out’ game. 

Once the person that received the gift names what is in the box, (in this case lets say, ‘Dominos’ the person that gave the gift will say:

I know ‘Dominos’ would be a great gift for you because … 

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