Prism Session on The three parts of high performance communication that need to be mastered are: content, delivery, and state.
To put it simply, content is the sum of the words, images, and stories used to deliver a message. While people deal with content in every communication and interaction, no matter how simple, most people make the same three mistakes when delivering content:
- Too much information.
- No relevance.
- No point.
This results from speakers approaching the content from the wrong angle; it is also a result of talking about what they want to say as opposed to considering what the listener needs to know and feel. Therefore the content should focus on what the listener cares about the most. Focusing on what listeners care about should not be confused with telling listeners what they want to hear in order to flatter or manipulate them. Instead, speakers needs to craft their information in a way that starts with the listeners first and crafts a message that will be relevant to them.
Because speaking with intent is such a critical aspect of mastering high performance communication, preparation is absolutely necessary. Without preparation, speakers are not communicating intentionally; instead, they are just thinking out loud. Therefore it is important for speakers to know what they are going to say and why they are going to say it.
The first step in preparation is to define the desired outcome. In an effective conversation there are three possible positive outcomes:
- The listeners have an insight that shifts their mind-sets.
- The listeners make a new decision because of the conversation.
- The listeners take action.
Speakers must decide which of these outcomes they hope to achieve and write it down. An outcome needs to be specific, as does the way one hopes to achieve the outcome. The authors suggest writing down not just the three things the listener needs to know but also the three things the listener needs to feel in order for the speaker to achieve the desired outcome. The message must be one that is directed at producing the emotions that the listener needs to experience in order for the message to achieve its purpose.
It is also necessary for speakers to understand why the listeners should care about what they are about to hear. This is the relevance of their communication. If a speaker is not presenting something of relevance to the audience, then no one is listening. The authors suggest that the speaker write down the three solid reasons why the listener should care about what he has to say.
Finally, the most critical piece of any conversation is the point. In preparations the speaker should consider his point and boil it down to one clear and memorable sentence.
Just like with any good movie or book, a speech must be comprised of three things:
- A ramp (the beginning)
- Discovery (the middle)
- Dessert (the end)
A ramp is the first few sentences of the speech, and it is the point when the speaker needs to grab the listener’s attention. This is the part of the communication where relevance becomes very important. If the information is not relevant, then the purpose of the ramp has failed.
The authors provide a list of powerful strategies speakers can use when developing a ramp:
1. Open with the word “you.” This gives the speaker an immediate advantage because he is talking about the members of the audience’s favorite topic–themselves.
2. Use a powerful statistic. The authors also refer to this as a “sexy number.” Sexy numbers contain an element of surprise.
3. Ask a question.
4. Shock them.
5. Make a confession. Being vulnerable helps make the speaker relatable.
6. Use the word “imagine.” Imagine is an incredibly powerful word because it makes the communication interactive.
7. Tell an historical anecdote.
8. Tell a story. Stories help speakers establish human interest in their data.
Another important part of the beginning of a speech is the road map. A successful road map is brief and easy to understand. This is not the time to inundate the audience with a daunting run down of everything the speaker is about to say to them.
The road map should:
*Tell people how long the speaker is going to be speaking.
*Give a preview of the structure.
*Set up the rules of engagement. For example, asking the audience to hold their questions until the end.
Once the ramp and the road map have been established, it is time for the speaker to provide the listeners with knowledge. This is the middle of the speech or the discovery portion. The authors suggest that the speaker organize the discovery section into what they term the three points of delivery, or PoDs, for short.
Three is an effective number because the human brain handles information not in an endless stream but in meaningful chunks. Individuals cannot follow structure of chunks of seven or twelve. It is important that no matter how complex the topic may be, it is reduced to three clear points without dumbing down the material. Because the speaker already documented the three things the listeners needed to know when he was preparing the speech, the three PoDs should be easy to identify. The middle of a speech should also include a summary of the PoDs and a Q&A section before the speaker moves into the end, or the dessert.
The dessert is an important part of the speech because it allows the speaker to take back control, regardless of how difficult a Q&A section might have been. Because the last thing the audience hears will be the thing that stays with them longest, it is extremely important that the dessert produces a strong emotion. Again, the speaker should refer back to his preparation when he documented what a listener needed to feel.
A term used to describe the quality of a message that sticks in people’s mind is its “stickiness.” In order to make something stick it must be simple, emotional, and vivid. The authors provide a variety of techniques designed to ensure that a speaker’s message is sticky. They are:
1. Stories: Using stories creates bonds, accelerates understanding, and demonstrates empathy.
2. Metaphors: Metaphors allow speakers to focus the listeners’ attention where they want it. They accelerate the speed of understanding, create feeling, and can simplify complex ideas.
3. Active Language: The most powerful language is fresh, concrete, and set at the appropriate level of intensity. Speakers should avoid trendy words or business acronyms, which can make speeches seem dated and stale.
4. Refrain: Because listeners will immediately forget 90 percent of what is said to them, a refrain becomes a powerful tool that allows the speaker to repeatedly weave the point of the speech throughout the entire discussion.
5. Q&A: Dialogue is necessary to create trust and rapport with the audience, and the Q&A is essentially opening up a speech to the audience, allowing dialogue to occur. It is also an opportunity for speakers to demonstrate their knowledge and trustworthiness.
After spending valuable time developing the strategies and content of the speech, speakers have developed a lucid and relevant message. Now, the way in which that message is delivered becomes the next step. The authors state that great ideas are not enough and that speakers need to bring their ideas to life with warm and personal delivery. Speakers have a number of instruments available to them to achieve this type of delivery.
While it is true that many people are uncomfortable with the sound of their own voices, the authors suggest that this may have less to do with the sound and more to do with the fact that their voices are revealing what they are not saying or their inner states. In an effort to be less transparent, speakers will often flatten out the emotion in their speech; unfortunately by doing this, they also inadvertently make themselves less interesting to the listeners.
The authors suggest that speakers spend time working on their voices, the same way an actor would, with a focus on breath and vocal variety.
Abdominal breathing, the type of breathing used by professional singers and actors to support their voices, is a useful tool for speakers to employ. By focusing on breathing deeply throughout a presentation speakers can avoid having their chests and throats tighten up.
While breathing deeply helps speakers keep their own emotions in check, the vocal variety employed throughout a speech is instrumental in conveying the emotions that speakers want their audiences to feel. Vocal variety is also important because varying the volume, pitch, and tempo of a speech ensures that the speech does not become monotone, which always results in a bored audience.
POSTURE AND MOVEMENT
When speaking to a crowd, the audience does not just judge what the speaker says or how he says it; the audience is also influenced by the speaker’s body language. Failing to consider posture and movement during a presentation could inadvertently derail or even contradict the message the speaker took so much time to craft.
The authors suggest that speakers carefully plan their entrances and, when possible, enter from stage right, because in Western culture people read from left to right; so when a speaker enters from the audience’s left they make a positive association.
After his entrance, the speaker should do three things before he begins to speak:
1. Stop. After entering the stage the speaker should stop and stand still in what the authors describe as heroic neutral, a relaxed stance characterized by a lifted sternum and arms loose at one’s sides. Stopping focuses the audience’s attention and gives the speaker a moment to settle in.
2. Breathe: By taking a breath, the speaker is preparing himself for the event. The breath in also brings brightness to the speaker’s eyes and prepares the voice to speak.
3. See: The speaker needs to also take a moment to really see his audience. This conveys the message that the speaker is happy to see them. Even if the light prevents audience members from being visible, the speaker should envision their faces in his mind.
Attention should also be given to the use of hands, since their position is one of the strongest indicators of body language. Hands held in front are seen as a defensive position; therefore, they should be down by the speaker’s sides when the speaker begins in the heroic natural stance. This allows the speaker to use them freely throughout the speech for emphasis.
In order to effectively use body language to their advantage, speakers should try and resist the urge to stand rooted behind a podium. This creates a barrier between the speaker and the audience and diminishes the connection. The speaker should, after he begins to feel comfortable, come out from behind the podium and move about the stage. It is important that when moving across the stage speakers do so with motivation, to avoid looking as though they are wandering about. The authors also suggest that all movement cease when speakers are delivering a “landing phrase,” a phrase that they want to land with emphasis.
In most cases, unless conveying a sad or troubling story, a smile is one of the best expressions a speaker can use. Eye connection is also a very important tool that allows speakers to establish a connection and convey interest and openness with the audience. When speaking to a crowd, speakers should avoid scanning the crowd; instead, they should make what Meyers and Nix refer to as “connected conversations.” In connected conversations, speakers deliver sections of their speeches to individuals. If it is a large audience, the speaker can divide the audience into quadrants and move randomly from quadrant to quadrant when isolating the individuals to speak to.
Just as a speaker needs to prepare his content and delivery, the speaker’s state is equally important when delivering an effective speech. A speaker’s state is comprised of the body, the minds-eye, and personal beliefs.
The body and the language it conveys are as important, if not more, than the content of what the speaker is sharing. But the speaker’s state of mind can also be a powerful influence on the speaker’s success. Speakers should choose what to focus on and consider this the mind’s eye. The mind’s eye should not wander about randomly, but should focus on questions that have powerful presuppositions in them. Instead of asking himself, “What will go wrong in this speech?” the speaker should shift his mind’s eye to a reframed question, such as, “What can I gain from this speech?”
It is human nature to focus on the negative rather than the positive, and this tendency can impact an individual’s beliefs about himself. Speakers should examine the beliefs they have about themselves before going out to deliver a speech, since people’s belief systems are nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies. If a speaker believes that he is not smart enough, engaging enough, or educated enough to hold his audience’s attention, then he will not. It is important for the speaker to reframe his beliefs to enable him to succeed.
Sometimes there are situations when one-on-one conversations or communications are critical. These are moments when one’s reputation may be on the line or one may be trying to land an important client.
One high-stakes situation is the conversation that one would like to avoid having at all costs. The author’s call this a “courageous conversation” since it requires courage. They recommend that there are times when one must “put the fish on the table,” or address the problem at hand in a direct and courageous way. Sometimes, it is the only way to move toward a resolution because one’s courage and willingness to address something can help build a bond. A bond is absolutely critical in any courageous conversation because without it, one loses the power to influence the other person.
Another high-stakes situation is crisis communication. Because crises are unavoidable, everyone will have to deal with one eventually. There is a clear formula people can use when communicating to interested parties after a crisis unfolds:
- Detail what is known for sure.
- Explain what is still unknown.
- As a leader, the person speaking should explain what he or she thinks about the situation.
- Tell people what they can do to help.
- Explain what they can count on.
- Create hope by explaining how the struggle they are facing will make them stronger.
Becoming one’s authentic self will allow one’s full leadership presence to show. Developing presence is a process of subtraction–taking away those things that are obstructing the authentic self. Just as a speech delivered with intent can be most powerful, a life lived with intent can be equally as powerful. When individuals determine what they are passionate about in life, this provides them with a goal to which they are emotionally connected. To help determine this, the authors suggest that individuals create what is called “a personal vision statement”–a statement about the qualities of character by which a person commits to live.