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

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So the point of this game is, to one, remind ourselves we have to get out of our own way, like we talked about before, but to see this as an opportunity and to have fun. I love watching people play this game. The number of smiles that I saw amongst you and, and I have to admit when I first started some of you looked a little dour, a little doubting, okay? But in that last game you all were smiling and looked like you were having fun, so when you reframe the spontaneous speaking opportunity as an opportunity, as something that you co-create and share. All of a sudden, you are less nervous, less defensive, and you can accomplish something pretty darn good. In this case, a fun outcome.

This reminds us of perhaps the most famous of all improvisation sayings. Yes and. A lot of us live our communication lives saying no but. Yes and opens up a tremendous amount of opportunities. And this doesn’t mean you have to say yes and to a question somebody asks. This just means the approach you take to the situation. So you’re going to ask me questions, that’s an opportunity. Yes, and I will follow through, versus no and being defensive.

So, we’ve accomplished the first two steps of our process. First we get out of our own way, and we can reframe the situation as an opportunity.

The next phase is also hard, but very rewarding, and that is to slow down, and listen. You need to understand the demands of the requirement you find yourself in, in order to respond appropriately. But often, we jump ahead. We listen just enough to think we got it, and then we go ahead, starting — to think about what we’re going to respond and then we respond. We really need to listen. Because fundamentally, as a communicator, your job is to be in service of your audience. And if you don’t understand what your audience is asking or needs, you can’t fulfill that obligation. So we need to slow down and listen.

I have a fun game to play. In this game you are going to S-P-E-L-L E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G-Y-O-U S-A-Y T-O Y-O-U-R P-A-R-T-N-E-R.

I will translate. You’re going to get with the same partner you just worked with. And you are going to have a very brief conversation about something fun that you plan to do today. I know this is the most fun you are going to have all day. But the next fun thing you are going to do today. You are going to tell your partner what you are going to do that will be fun today. But you are going to do so by S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G I-T. Okay? So you’re going to spell it.

It’s okay if you are not a good speller. Look, you’ll see the benefit of doing this.

So, with the partner you just worked with, person A is going to go first this time. You are simply going to tell your partner. Actually you’re going to spell to your partner, what it is of fun, something of fun, that you’re going to do today. Okay? Do what you were really going to do for fun and not do things like F-E-E-D T-H-E C-A-T, right, just because you don’t want to spell, right?

So, you can use big words. All right, 30 seconds each. Spell to your partner something fun that you’re going to do today.

Would you like to play? Go ahead.

G-O-T A-T G-A-M-E. Oh my goodness say it again.

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Spell it again.


G-O-T A-T G-A-M-E.

E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T. I H-O-P-E T-H-A-T T-H-E-Y W-I-N.


Thank you.

That was very good.

Thank you.

If you have not switched, switch. Take 30 more seconds with the new partner spelling.

G-R-E-A-T exclamation point. T-H-A-N-K-Y-O-U. P-L-E-A-S-E. T-A-K-E Y-O-U-R S-E-A-T.

So what did we learn? What did we learn? Besides that we’re not so good at spelling. You have to pause between the words.

How did this change your interaction with the person you were interacting with? What did you have to do? Focus. Focus, and listen. And you can’t be thinking ahead. You have to be in the moment. When you listen and truly understand what the person is trying to say, then you can respond in a better way, a more targeted response. We often don’t listen.

So we start by getting out of our own way. We then reframe the situation as an opportunity. Those are things we do inside our head. But in the moment of interacting, we have to listen first, before we can respond to the spontaneous request. Perhaps my most favorite maxim comes from this activity. Don’t just do something, stand there. Listen. Listen, and then respond.

Now, how do we respond? That brings us to the fourth part of our process. And that is, we have to tell a story. We respond in a way that has a structure. All stories have structure. We have to respond in a structured way.

The key to successful spontaneous speaking and by the way planned speaking is having a structure. I would like to introduce you to two of the most prevalent and popular and useful structures you can use to communicate a message in a spontaneous situation.

But before we get there, we have to talk about the value of structure. It increases what is called processing fluency, the effectiveness of which, or through which we process information. We actually process structured information, roughly 40% more effectively and efficiently than information that’s not structured. I love looking out in this audience, because you will remember as I remember. Phone numbers. When you had to remember them if you wanted to call somebody. Okay. Young folks today don’t need to remember phone numbers. They just need to look at a picture, push a button and then the voice starts talking on the other end. Ten digit phone numbers, it’s actually hard to remember ten digit phone numbers. How did you do it? You chunked it into a structure. Three, three and four. Structure helps us remember.

The same is true when speaking spontaneously or in a planned situation. So let me introduce you to two useful structures. The first useful structure you have probably heard or used in some incarnation, it is the problem-solution-benefit structure. You start by talking about what the issue is, the problem. You then talk about a way of solving it, and then you talk about the benefits of following through on it. Very persuasive, very effective. Helps you as the speaker remember it, helps your audience know where you’re going with it.

When I was a tour guide on this campus, many, many, many years ago. What do you think the single most important thing they drilled into our head? It took a full quarter, by the way, to train to be a tour guide here. They used to line us up at one end of the quad, and have us walk backward, straight, and if you failed you had to start over. To this day, I can walk backwards in a straight line because of that.

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As part of that training, what do you think the most important thing they taught us was? Never lose your tour group. I’m not joking. Never, that’s, never lose your tour group. The same is true as a presenter. Never lose your audience. The way you keep your audience on track is by providing structure. None of you would go on a tour with me if I said, hi, my name’s Matt. Let’s go. You want to know where you’re going, why you’re going there, how long it’s going to take? You need to set expectations and structure does that.

Problem, solution, benefit is a wonderful structure to have in your back pocket. It’s something that you can use quickly when you’re in the moment. It can be reframed so it’s not always a problem you’re talking about. Maybe it’s an opportunity. Maybe there’s a market opportunity you want to go out and capture. It’s not a problem that we’re not doing it. But maybe we’d be better off if we did. So it becomes opportunity, solution, which are the steps to achieve it. And then the benefit.

Another structure which works equally, equally well, is the what? So what? Now what? Structure. You start by talking about what it is, then you talk about why it’s important, and then what the next steps are. This is a wonderful formula for answering questions. For introducing people. So if, in the moment somebody asks me to introduce somebody, I change the what to who. I say who they are, why they’re important and what we’re going to do next. Maybe listen to them, maybe drink our wine, whatever. All right.

What, so what, now what.

The reality is this, when you are in spontaneous speaking situation, you have to do two things simultaneously. You have to figure out what to say and how to say it. These structures help you by telling you how to say it. If you can become comfortable with these structures, you can be in a situation where you can respond very ably to spontaneous speaking situations. We’re going to practice. Because that’s what we do.

Here’s the situation. Is everybody familiar with this child’s toy? It’s a slinky. Okay? You are going to sell this slinky to your partner using either problem, solution, benefit or opportunity, solution, benefit. What does the slinky provide you? Or you could use what, so what, now what? What is it? Why is it important? And the next steps might be to buy it, okay?

So by using that structure, see how already it helps you? It helps you focus. Get with your partner and we’re only going to have one partner sell to the other partner, okay? So get with your partner. One of you will volunteer to sell to the other, okay? Sell a slinky using problem, solution, benefit or what so what, now what?

Please begin.

So we have the handouts, but I’m also going to be doing the, the-

The microphone?

Mic. So.

When I debrief this, you can go ahead and pass them out. Does that make sense?

Okay, so after, after.

No no, mm-hm, after this activity.

Okay. And then.

After that.

30 more seconds, please. Excellent. Let’s all close the deal, seal the deal. I have never seen more people in one place doing this at the same time. I love it. I teach people to gesture and gesture big, it’s great. I love it.