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

Spontaneous Speaking

So as a result of that, this workshop was created, and a vast majority of first year students here at the GSB go through this workshop. So I’m going to walk you through sort of a hybrid version of what they do. The reality is that spontaneous speaking is actually more prevalent than planned speaking. Perhaps it’s giving introductions. You’re at a dinner and somebody says, you know so and so, would you mind introducing them?

Maybe it’s giving feedback. In the moment, your boss turns to you and says, would you tell me what you think?

It could be a surprise toast. Or finally, it could be during the Q and A session. And by the way, we will leave plenty of time at the end of our day today for Q and A. I’d love to hear the questions you have about this topic or other topics related to communicating.

So our agenda is simple: in order to be an effective communicator, regardless of if it’s planned or spontaneous, you need to have your anxiety under control. So we’ll start there.

Second, what we’re going to talk about is some ground rules for the interactivity we’ll have today and then finally we’re going to get into the heart of what we will be covering and again, as I said, lots of activity and I invite you to participate.

Anxiety management

So let’s get started with anxiety management. 85% of people tell us that they’re nervous when speaking in public. And I think the other 15% are lying. Okay? We could create a situation where we could make them nervous too. In fact, just this past week a study from Chapman University asked Americans, what are the things you fear most? And among being caught in a surprise terrorist attack, having identity, your identity stolen, was public speaking. Among the top five was speaking in front of others. This is a ubiquitous fear, and one that I believe we can learn to manage. And I use that word manage very carefully because I don’t think we ever want to overcome it. Anxiety actually helps us. It gives us energy, helps us focus, tells us what we’re doing is important. But we want to learn to manage it.

So I’d like to introduce you to a few techniques that can work and all of these techniques are based on academic research. But before we get there, I’d love to ask you what does it feel like when you’re sitting in the audience watching a nervous speaker present, how do you feel, just shout out a few things, how to do you feel?

Uncomfortable

Uncomfortable. I heard many of you going, yes, uncomfortable. It feels very awkward, doesn’t it? So what do we do? Now a couple of you probably like watching somebody suffer. Okay, but most of us don’t.

So what do we do? We sit there and we nod and we smile or we disengage. And to the nervous speaker looking out at his or her audience seeing a bunch of people nodding or disengaged, that does not help. Okay. So we need to manage our anxiety. Because fundamentally, your job as a communicator rather, regardless of if it’s planned or spontaneous, is to make your audience comfortable. Because if they’re comfortable they can receive your message. And when I say comfortable I am not referring to the fact that your message has to be sugar coated and nice for them to hear. It can be a harsh message. But they have to be in a place where they can receive it.

So it’s incumbent on you as a communicator to help your audience feel comfortable and we do that by managing our anxiety. So let me introduce you to a few techniques that I think you can use right away to help you feel more comfortable.

The first has to do with when you begin to feel those anxiety symptoms. For most people this happens in the initial minutes prior to speaking. In this situation what happens is many of us begin to feel whatever it is that happens to you. Maybe your stomach gets a little gurgly. Maybe your legs begin to shake. Maybe you begin to perspire. And then we start to say to ourselves, oh, my goodness, I’m nervous. Oh. They’re going to tell I’m nervous. This is not going to go well. And we start spiraling out of control.

So, research on mindful attention tells us that if, when we begin to feel those anxiety symptoms, we simply greet our anxiety and say hey, this is me feeling nervous. I’m about to do something of consequence. And simply by greeting your anxiety and acknowledging it, that it’s normal and natural. Heck, 85% of people tell us they have it. You actually can stem the tide of that anxiety spiraling out of control. It’s not necessarily going to reduce the anxiety but it will stop it from spinning out.

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