As We Speak: Reading Notes

The below are reading notes of some good old truths, new aha-s and pro tips from a pretty good concise communications guidebook called As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Make it Stick by Peter Meyers and Shann Nix. Mostly focussed on public speaking, especially to larger audiences – but touches upon other topics as well, such as small meeting settings, managing crisis communications, using comms & presentation technology and structuring 1:1 tough conversations.

The book was assigned as reading for a brief reflection essay in the Generative Leadership class at Stanford, but I would (and have already) recommended it as a no-brainer purchase for any manager to hand out to people on their team who need a little comms help. They’ll get through it in a few hours and be grateful for the few very tangible things they can implement the same day.

Content

  • Fill the first 7 seconds on stage with a meaningful, grabbing message
    • Tempting to start with greetings, introduction, house rules – nothing happens if these follow from 8th second, not from the very beginning
  • Never endwith the conclusion of Q&A (the answer you gave to question randomly asked as last)
    • prepare a “dessert” closure to use after that, to control the message/tone people are left with
  • No prepared outline survives the CEO (oh, hi, Niklas, Michael, Josh & Tony! :))
    • design your structure with Q&A-like main content part
  • Stories need coordinates: when, where, who
    • Start with the platform of Ordinary -> tilt the platform to unnatural state -> regain balance (through struggle)
    • (very similar to what James Buckhouse of Twitter & Dreamworks was talking to us about)
  • Brain processes images 60X faster than words
  • Match the modalityin dialogue, Q&A
    • When question contains language for “sounds like”, have the answer include “I hear you…”, not based other senses such as “it feels like..”, “it looks like…”

Delivery

  • Audience gathers additional messaging from your voice / effects
    • ex: high pitch: empathy, low: authority
  • No such thing as too fast speaking
    • The issue usually is of rhythm (no change in pace, monotony, no/misplaced pauses)
  • Vary staccato (“yes we can”) with legato (“I have a dream…”)
  • Enter from stage right…
    • in Western cultures! (following the reading direction of audience)
    • when you don’t need to shake any hands (entering from left doesn’t make you turn your back to audience)
  • Divide the audience to Left/Right/Front/Back quadrants
    • consciously alternate which quad you are speaking to
    • aids especially to detect if you tend to miss out Back completely
  • Sync physical stage movements with linking phrases(“that leads me to…”, “speaking of which…”)
    • Stay still on landing phrases
  • The point of the final dress rehearsal is to not stop when (not if!) anything goes wrong – practice for overcoming hiccups

State

  • Pre-performance routines (aka preparation patterns) help to control state
    • Active ones (jumping, laughing) release serotonin in the brain (for confidence, joy)
  • Distract your brain from negative focus (“I will forget”, “they fill find out I don’t know enough”) by asking yourself positive questions
    • NB! not just abstract “positive thinking”, trying to hypnotise or some new age stuff – just enforce mental search for positive
    • not closed “will it be interesting?”, but open ended “what is the most compelling part?”
  • Belief = what a particular person considers always to be true
    • stands on illustrative facts
    • ergo, to change a belief: clearly state a new one and explore facts to support it

High-Stake Situations

  • In hostage negotiations: distinction between liking/respecting the taker VS creating a bond
  • In dialogue/argument, never talk more than 3-4 sentences at a time
    • Whoever asks the questions, drives the outcome
    • Passive responder (stream of arguments) eventually loses
  • Reward small concessions in argument
    • NB! careful with nodding – signals agreement, not just thanks
    • verbal is safer (agree, makes sense, thanks for that)
  • Paraphrase, not parrot phrase (word for word) to signal receiving the point
  • Crisis communications: meet needs for security, connection & contribution – in this order
    1. Here’s what we know for sure – certainty (anything!) calms hysteria
    2. Here’s what we don’t know
    3. Here’s what I think – personal gut, analysis, beliefs
    4. Here’s what you can do
    5. Here’s what you can count on from me – commitment
    6. Here’s why it is worthwhile to make the effort – greater purpose, not false optimism
  • Whichever medium/modality (phone, video call, email, live speech) you have for communication, try to “warm it up”
    • face-to-face conversation still as ultimate benchmark
    • “I:You ratio” (mention “I” once per every 10 “you”-s)
    • In audio conference, pause at least every 7 minutes for interaction
      • 18 minutes is the sharp attention drop-off with no return
      • “tag” questions with <Name> + bridge + <Question> to enable response
        • <Question>, “what do you say, ” + <Name> much harder to react to
    • Try to get into “live audience” state on the phone
  • When entering a new situation/project/organisation, map your personal communications dashboard
    • One person per line
    • Fill out for each: Needs, Intended Outcome, Communications Strategy (frequency, mode)