Think Fast, Talk Smart Communication Techniques by Matt Abrahams (Full Transcript)

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So in a moment I’m going to ask you to stand and do that. Please raise your hand if you already have the first five or six things you’re going to call out. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. We stockpile. You all are excellent gameplayers. I told you the game, shout the wrong name. And you have already begun figuring out how you’re going to master the game. That’s your brain trying to help you get it right.

I’d like to suggest, the only way you can get this activity wrong is by doing what you’ve just done. There is no way to get this wrong. Okay. Even if I call this a chair, no penalty will be bestowed upon you. Okay? Because I won’t know what you were pointing at. You could have been pointing at the floor under the chair, and you called the floor the chair and you were fine. The point is, we are planning and working to get it right. And there is no way to get it right. Just doing it gets it right.

Okay, so let’s try this now. We’re going to play this game twice. Again, it’s for 30 seconds. If you are willing and able, will you please stand up? You can do this seated, by the way. But if you’re willing and able, let’s stand up. Okay, in a moment I am about to say, go. And I would like for you to point at anything around here, including me. It’s okay to point at me. I hope it’s not a bad thing you say when you point at me. But point at different things, and loudly and proudly call them different than what they are.

Ready? Begin.

Porcupine. California, salt shaker, car, library, tennis racket, purple, orange, putrid. Hello. Time, time.

You can stay standing, because in mere moments, we’re going to do it again. So if you’re comfortable standing, we’re about to do it again. First, thank you. That was wonderful. I heard great words being called out. It was, it was fun. And some of you in the back were doing it in sync. So it looked like you were doing some 70s disco dance. It was awesome. Okay. This, this was great.

Now let me ask you just a few questions. Did you notice anything about the words that you were saying? Did we find patterns, perhaps? Maybe some of you were going through fruits and vegetables. A few of you were going through things that started with the letter A, right? That’s your brain saying, okay you told me not to stockpile, so I’m going to try to be a little more devious and I’m going to give you patterns, okay? Same problem.

When we teach that class I told you about, that improvisationally speaking class, we like to say, your brain is there to help you. These things it’s doing have helped you be successful, but like a windshield wiper, we just want to wipe those suggestions away and see what happens. Okay.

So we’re going to do this activity again. This time, try the best you can to thank your brain if it provides you with patterns or stockpiles and just say thank you brain. And disregard them. Okay, so let’s see what happens when we’re not stockpiling and we’re not playing off patterns. We’ll do this for only 15 seconds, see how this feels. Baby steps.

Ready begin. Kodak, Bicycle chain. Skate board. Bananas. Purple. Putrid. Time.

Please have a seat. Thank you again.

Did you notice a difference between the second time and the first time. Yes, was it a little easier that second time? No. That’s okay. We’re just starting. These skills are not like a light switch. It’s not like you learn these skills and then all of a sudden you can execute on them. This is a wonderful game. This is a wonderful game to train your brain to get out of its own way. You can play this game anywhere, anytime. I like to play this game when I’m sitting in traffic. Makes me feel better than the, I shout things out. They’re not the naughty things that I want to be shouting out. But I shout out things, and it helps. You’re training yourself to get out of your own way. You’re working against the muscle memory that you’ve developed over the course of your life with a brain that acts very fast to help you solve problems. But in essence, in spontaneous speaking situations, you put too much pressure on yourself trying to figure out how to get it right.

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So a game like this teaches us to get out of our own way. It teaches us to see the things that we do that prevent us from acting spontaneously. In essence we are reacting rather than responding. To react means to act again. You’ve thought it and now you’re acting on it. That takes too long and it’s too thoughtful. We want to respond in a way that’s genuine and authentic.

So the maxims I would like for you to take from this, and again these maxims come from improvisation, is one of my favorite. Dare to be dull. And in a room like this, telling you dare to be dull is offensive, and I apologize. But this will help. Rather than striving for greatness, dare to be dull. And if you dare to be dull and allow yourself that, you will reach that greatness. It’s when you set greatness as your target, that it gets in the way of you ever getting there. Because you over evaluate, you over analyze, you freeze up.

So the first step in our process today, is to get out of our own way. Dare to be dull. Easier said than done. But once you practice, and a game just as simple as the one we practiced, is a great way to do it. But that’s not enough.

Getting out of our own way is important. But the second step of our process has us change how we see the situation we find ourselves in. We need to see the speaking opportunity that we are a part of as an opportunity, rather than a challenge and a threat. When I coach executives on Q and A skills, when they go in front of the media or whatever, investors. They see it as an adversarial experience, me versus them. And one of the first things I work on is change the way you approach it. A Q and A session, for example, is an opportunity for you. It’s an opportunity to clarify, it’s an opportunity to understand what people are thinking.

So if we look at it as an opportunity, it feels very different. We see it differently, and therefore we have more freedom to respond. When I feel that you are challenging me, I am going to do the bare minimum to respond and protect myself. If I see this as an opportunity where I have a chance to explain and expand, I’m going to interact differently with you.

So, spontaneous speaking situations are ones that afford you opportunities. So when you’re at a corporate dinner, and your boss turns to you and says, oh, you know him better than the rest. Would you mind introducing him? You say, great, thank you for the opportunity, rather than, auuhhh, right? I better get this right. So see things as an opportunity.

I have a game to play to help us with this. This is a fun one, the holidays are approaching, we all, in this room, are going to give and receive gifts. Here is how this game will work. It works best if you have a partner. So I am hoping you can work with somebody sitting next to you. If there is nobody sitting next to you, turn around, introduce yourself, great way to connect. If not, you can play this game by yourself. It’s just a little harder, and you can’t do the second part of the game. So, after I explain the game, this gives you a chance to get to know somebody.

Here’s how it works. If you have a partner, you and your partner are going to exchange imaginary gifts, okay? Pretend you have a gift. It can be a big gift, can be a small gift. And you will give your gift to your partner. Your partner will take the gift and open it up and will tell you what you gave them, because you have no — you just gave them a gift. So you are going to open up the box, and you’re going to look inside. And you are going to say the first thing that comes to your mind in the moment, not the thing you have all just thought of. Or the thing after that. Remember what we talked about before? That still plays, that’s still in play. Okay, you’re stockpiling.

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Look in there. My favorite that I said, somebody gave me this, a gift during playing this game, I looked inside and I saw a frog leg. I don’t know why I saw a frog leg, but that’s what I said. That’s the first part of the activity.

Now, the opportunity is two-fold in this game. The opportunity is for you, the gift receiver, to name a gift. That’s kind of fun. That’s an opportunity. It’s not a threat. But the real opportunity is for the gift giver, because the gift giver then has to say. So you look and you say thank you for giving me a frog’s leg, and the person will, will look at you and say I knew you wanted a frog’s leg, because — So whatever you find the person who has received it is going to say absolutely, I’m so glad you’re happy, I got it for you because. So you have to respond to whatever they say. Right? What a great opportunity.

Now some of you are sitting there going, oh, that’s hard. I don’t want to do it, I might make a fool out of myself. Others of you are, if you’re following this advice, are saying, what a great opportunity. Right?

So, the game again is played like this. You and your partner will exchange, each will exchange a gift. One will start, then the other will follow. The first person will give a gift to the second person. Second person opens the box, however big the box is, and if the box is big, and you find a penny in it, perfect, doesn’t matter. The box is heavy and you find a feather in it, fine. It doesn’t, there’s no way to get it wrong. Okay? Whatever’s in the box is in the box. You can return it and get what you wanted later. Okay?

The person, then, you will name it. You will say thank you for the, whatever you saw in the box. The person who gave it to you will say, I’m so glad you’re excited. I got it for you because. And you will give a reason that you got them whatever they decided you gave them. Make sense?

All right. So, very quickly just, in five seconds, find a partner if you’re willing to do this with a partner. Everybody have a partner? Okay. All right. In your partnerships, in your partnerships, pick an A person and a B person. You may stand or sit, it’s totally up to you. Pick an A and pick a B. Okay? B goes first. All right. B, give A a gift. A thank them, and then B will name and give the reason they gave it to them.

If you have not switched, switch please. If you have not switched, switch please.

Let’s wrap it up in 30 seconds please. Let’s wrap it up.

All right. If we can all have our seats. If we can all take our seats please. I know I’m telling a room of many MBA alums to stop talking and that’s hard.

All right, ladies and gentlemen. Did you get what you wanted? Yes. Pretty neat, huh? You always get what you want.

Now for some of you this was really hard because you were really taking the challenge and not seeing what was in the box until you looked in there. Okay. Was anybody surprised by what you found in the box? What did you find sir, what was in the box? What? Oh, wow! Nice! Nice, if you’ve got a Ferrari you need a transmission. I like it.

Who else found something that was surprising? What did you find? A live unicorn! That’s a great gift. Right?

How was it as the gift giver? Were you surprised at what your partner found in the box? Isn’t it interesting that when we give an imaginary gift knowing that the person’s going to name it we already have in mind what they’re going to find? And when they say live unicorn, we go well that’s interesting. Right?