Most consumers of media, naturally, have a perception of the news media that suits their take on the world. They project, as we all do, certain values on to the news media that may or may not be true....and who cares?
However, if your intention is to use the media to promote your ideas or ideals, or if you depend on the news media to tell accurately your story to the world, it may pay to step back and take a skeptical view on this seemingly incontrollable monster that we call the media.
Click here for a longish essay that is an amalgam of several addresses that I have made on utilising the strengths and weaknesses of the news gathering machine
Looking back over the thirty thousand or more current affairs interviews I’ve conducted over the course of my career, I mark the beginning of my professional and personal maturity at the point where I began to understand how language can be fashioned to manipulate and distort people’s representations of reality.
As a young journalist in the 1970’s fronting sausage-factory current affairs shows, churning out interviews which frequently had the uniformity and substance of a supermarket saveloy, I felt extravagantly inadequate to the task of bringing so-called opinion-makers to task. At times I found their rhetoric bewildering and intimidating. On other occasions, the sheer onslaught of verbiage took me to a point of stupefaction where questions and, in fact, words, no longer came.
Being left speechless by the silken words of puffed-up public figures wasn’t an experience I particularly relished. This was especially so in live interviews. Their triumph and my imagined humiliation was a very public affair. I soon tired of turning the colour of a baboon’s backside each and every time my inadequacies as a questioner rendered me impotent and embarrassed.
I knew I was being led a merry chase, but couldn’t identify the devices being used to deflect my occasionally incisive questions. My education, training and life experience hadn’t prepared me for this seemingly never-ending queue of absolutists ejaculating their ideologically ‘perfect’ models for a better and worse society, and getting away with it.
I became pre-occupied, some would say obsessed, with investigating how to peel away the layers of grandiloquence, how to respond to obfuscation, how to detect the lie behind the smug reply and how to catch the sleight of mouth experts in the act.
I also discovered that I didn’t know very much at all of what I didn’t know about questioning and language. What’s more, I found my peers didn’t know and my superiors didn’t know. The few books about the craft of interviewing I could lay my hands on deepened the mystery. Seemingly, the authors didn’t know either. The consensus advice was that listening was the key. But, listening for what? “Well, stuff that is important” was the closest I ever came to a straight answer. I was in a loop where my search for answers ultimately led me back to my original question. And that’s where I was on every occasion I wasn’t somewhere else.
I had to fossick around for the right questions to ask about questions. It felt more like scavenging for treasures at the local rubbish dump than launching into a new and exciting inquiry. My initial discoveries gave rise to more questions and some more useful answers. Since then I’ve trudged, crawled and frolicked through magnificent bodies of thought and material in my own personal quest to become a expert questioner.
Fortunately, I’ve had a ready supply of unknowing interviewees (thousands, in fact) on which to experiment. This minor fixation with questions and language has embellished immeasurably my life experiences and enhanced my performance as an expert questioner. More than anything else I know, my study of how we ascribe meanings to things with words and symbols - and how those meanings can either enrich or impoverish people’s views of the world - has opened my mind to a world that would have been closed to me, had I not taken up the inquiry. .
In my long study of charismatic communicators one things stands taller than all else - the quality and flexibility of their thinking and their abilities to question the status quo, received wisdom and so-called common sense. Many charismatic communicators have through intent and circumstance sharpened their thinking skills, often becoming masters of what I call 'radial logic' in place of the dogged pursuit of the mythical rock of truth. Many appear to have risen above the dim-witted thinking and rhetoric of the 'Warriors of the Word' in the often-phoney public debates over the issues of the day.
Quality thinking is not driven by answers, but by the mental discipline implicit in asking quality questions. This is where the best of charismatic communicators have an edge over many of their contemporaries.
To understand the real subtance of any issue, we need to understand what questions do that stock answers don’t. Questions drive thinking, which, in turn, produce more questions, which drive more thinking. Answers, on the other hand, are things that tend to have a completeness about them, are usually taught to us or created by others trying to manipulate us.
This is the secret to many of the successes of charismatic communicators: they question the status quo, they explore fundamental questions that have been buried by an avalanche of 'correct' answers and they bring those questions to the surface.
In the ensuing posts on this blog, I will explore in more detail some of the mental models of questioning I have modelled from observing charismatic figures.
Great storytellers can take a simple set of facts and create a multi-media experience in the minds of their audience with carefully crafted stories.
There are many emotions you can share with your audience simply by crafting your story around the right words. Happiness, anger, sadness, nostalgia are just a few. Knowing your purpose for speaking to a group helps you to craft emotional experiences that are fully congruent with your message. When you have a crystal clear purpose, choosing the right words and emotional platform to empower your message is simpler.
Here's an example of a set of facts that a speaker might convey:
“There have been eleven fatal accidents over holiday weekends in the past four years on the sharp curves of the Brookton highway, between Cursed Hole and Sleepy Hollow. Installation of guard rails, warning signs, and a flashing light will cost approximately $134,000. Even though we have not balanced the budget this year, I feel that we should appropriate money for this project.”
Here is a different version that reflects seeks to focus on the real emotional consequences of the message.
“On Easter Monday of this year Peter Smith and his family were found dead in their rolled-over car at the hairpin bend at mile peg 74. The radio of the car was still playing, tuned to our local station, when the ambulance arrived. Peter’s neck was broken. His wife Judith was crushed, and Jollie and Anne their three year old twins were dead too. No one here knows the Smith family because they're not from these parts, but they died in our locality. Most of you do, however, know of the hazardous twists and turns of the Brookton Highway, the scene of so many tragedies like that of the Smith family. We need money to put up guardrails, signs, and other safety features. I know money is tight, but can we not see fit to find the funds to remedy this situation before one of your family or neighbours suffers the same tragedy and Peter and Judith Smith and their daughters Jollie and Anne.”
Can you see the difference in these two appeals? The first was simply a set of facts. Facts are important, but they rarely stimulate people to action. The action comes when emotions get attached to valid facts. You can wager that the second version of the above story would havea better chance of securing the appropriate funding.
To create an emotional appeal in the second version of the story, words and phrases were chosen that had emotional power..... The Smith family were found dead. The car radio was still playing on the local station ... Peter’s neck was broken. Judith was crushed... hairpin bend ... They died in our locality - All of these phrases were woven into the original set of facts to create a congruous emotional platform designed to remedy the dangerous state of the Highway.
Win the heart of your listeners and their minds will follow.
The most effective presenters create a “relationship” with their audience where they share space for a time. A powerful way in which to initiate a relationship, not matter how fleeting, is to find the right emotional platform and weave a story around the facts you wish to present.
You create a relationahip with your audience when you infuse what you do with something of emotional and personal value to your audience.
The questions you should ask in respect to the delivery of your content are:
- How is what I’m doing reaching out and touching my audience?
- How will it improve my audience’s life?
- What can my listener do with what I’m proposing?
- How does what I’m doing dovetail into my listeners’ needs?
- How can I show my listeners what emotional benefits they will accrue, or the emotional distress they will avoid, if they accept my message?
Your emotional commitment to your listener should be greater than your commitment to what you think is important. Your best promotion is you: if you’re real, emotional, and credible when you find the real story that resides within a cluster of facts, people will vest trust in you. Rarely will your listener choose to embrace you and your message for purely logical reasons. Your listener may think, but remember s/he then feels, and its the feelings that ensue from the presentation of facts that drive action. Facts alone cannot do that.
More than two millennia ago Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu, observed that people who perceived themselves to be powerless caused great turmoil in the world because of resentfulness and resistance. Bullies, for example, whether in a work team or on the national stage do not perceive themselves to be powerful, and the lives of people around them suffer as they seek to dominate through force and aggression.
Can we explore this notion of perceptions of power a little further? When many people think about power, the types of power they usually envisage are physical power, monetary power, or some other form of coercive power that renders others more compliant or yielding. And so, feelings of powerlessness can often emerge as we lament about our levels of dependence and reliance on others.
In this brief article you will encounter a different perspective on power - a perspective that has the potential to place you at "cause" in respect to exercising personal power, rather than being at "effect" and viewing yourself as a vassal of those who have more authority or physical bearing.
The first secret to personal power is to acknowledge that power is a perceptual phenomenon.
The extent to which you may influence, persuade or control others is wholly dependent on the way others perceive YOUR power, not the other way around. Power is all about perceptions and the most persuasive and enduring types of perceived power have little, if anything, to do with money, physical strength or authority.
The second secret is to know the categories of power and how they work. Below is a brief summary together with examples of when they are used most effectively:
Reward Power: You have the perceived power to give or dispense reward or favour. The power to influence and persuade on the basis of your capacity to deliver sought after benefits. People will follow you and behave in certain ways in anticipation of receiving those benefits.
Examples: Salary increments, promotion, membership of in-groups, desirable projects, special favours, sought-after work roles, inside knowledge, valuable information and tips, preferential treatment.
Coercive power: You have the perceived power to punish or remove rewards. The power to influence and persuade based on your capacity to penalise or take away desired benefits. People will act or do as you request to avoid undesirable outcomes.
Examples: Demotion, performance management, ostracising from in-group, limiting opportunities, threats of termination, threats of dire consequences, removal from information loop.
Expert Power: Expert power is based on perceptions of competence. Regretably, research has revealed that men are perceived to have greater competency, instrumentality and leadership ability than women. The research also shows that, in general, women may have to demonstrate they are superior in competence to men to be perceived as competent by both men and women.
Competence can relate to any field and can be seen to represent an amalgam of knowledge, skill, experience, ability, aptitude, learning and attitude.
Examples: People believe, follow and take seriously those who they perceive to have expertise or expert knowledge in a particular field. In terms of leadership, people tend to be more compliant and less questioning. Doctors, academics, lawyers, etc., are perceived to have expert power relative to their patients, students and clients. Leaders with strong leadership experience and a positive track record with their staff are seen as having expert ‘Leader’ power.
Legitimate Power: A person possess legitimate power to the extent that others believe/perceive the s/he has the right to influence or control others. Particular roles, such as policewomen, judge, manager, imply legitimate power in varying degrees. Parents have legitimate power over children and sometimes priests or ministers are seen to embody legitimate power over congregations. On other occasions, people feel an obligation to defer to perceived authority or to show respect to particular individuals whom they believe command it.
Legitimate power has similar gender issues to that of expert power. For example, modest, but not too modest, female leaders evoke more favourable reactions than overtly confident or self-promoting female leaders, whereas the opposite applies to male leaders.
Examples: Lawful directions and decisions by managers, acceptance of direction by a traffic policeman, deference to authority and status.
Referent Power: Referent power is connected to an individual’s or group’s likeableness or social attractiveness. Referent power is often view as a more ‘indirect’ form of influence. It also refers, as does other forms of power, on an individual or group’s need or desire to maintain relationships.
Referent power can be seen to draw on what are termed ‘soft skills’ because it centres on the maintenance of relationships, often through the power of personality and social skill. Women are generally perceived to have higher levels of referent power than men, however it has been shown to be appropriate for both genders.
People want to be like, or near, an individual with high referent power and are consequently influenced by him or her. The advantage of high referent power is significant in terms of influence. Referent power creates more ‘internalisation’ of influence because it is fuelled by internal feelings of identification with the referent individual
Examples: Referent power as an influencing strategy can involve such elements as fair and consultative leadership, higher levels of people ecology (EI), thoughtfulness, consideration of others, collaboration, external focus as opposed to self-focus, the use of non-declarative language, understanding and manipulating for mutual ends human and typological differences, engineering attractive leadership identities, the structure of messages to educe better reception.
Guess which combination of power categories create the highest levels of perception of power? Thankfully, research shows that a combination of referent and expert power creates the strongest perceptions of power
Referent and expert power are do-able, placing you as the cause of others' perceptions of your power. In my book, The Charisma Effect', I reveal how you can build up referent and expert power, both of which are the result of learning and trail and error!
Social commentators and communication gurus often lament that people ecology (empathy, interest, curiosity in others and the spirits of equality and fraternity) has been replaced by fragmentation of communities into cliques and clans which have little interest in anyone outside their own physical, ideological or socio-economic territories. They claim we’ve created an increasingly selfish and self-seeking culture, evidenced by everything from bad driving behaviours to the callous disregard for the poor.
So, let’s talk about narcissism, or egoism, and how it impacts on your average speaker, public figure or leader. Think of these types of people as ‘self’ made people in love with their makers, if you like. To apply a rather astute system of categorisation espoused by Martin Buber, they’re people who have “I-I” or “I-It” relationships.
What narcissists don’t usually do is include others in their calculations. As you’ll discover they fail in many instances to make any tangible connection between themselves and other people.
The I - You Covenant
Martin Buber was an eminent Jewish theologian who wrote a three Valium tome called I and Thou. In it, he expresses what may be some of the most profound thoughts ever written on the subject of human relationships. Buber reasoned that the ultimate relationship one person can have with another is an “I-Thou” relationship. These types of relationships are necessarily rare and they can require an enormous investment of time and energy.
“I-Thou” relationships are characterised by a deep recognition of another person’s individual differences and a choice to include that person in the ranks of the loved and cherished, despite any ongoing conflict those differences may create. This is what some people describe as unconditional love. A spouse, a few children, and a couple of friends are about all you could cope with.
Buber wrote that most or some of us, most of the time, can strike up “I-You” relationships with others if we have the inclination. “I-You” relationships may or may not imply a deep recognition of individual differences. They’re fine as long as you respect the humanness of the other parties and understand, at some level, that differences are just differences and perhaps it’s similarities that you should be searching for. You don’t have to love “You’s” unconditionally - you don’t even have to like them - but you’re in trouble if you order them lower on the humanity scale than yourself.
Another category Buber established is what he terms the “I-I” relationship. This is probably what people mostly talk about when they refer to the Me culture. In many ways “I-I” relationships describe people who behave as though they’re the only real living organism on this planet or maybe even the universe.
With people who experience most of their encounters in the “I-It category, other living things are there to serve them, to get things out of, to be milked or shunted around for gain. People who establish “I-It” relationships with most, or all, of the rest of the world, can view other human beings as lower on the scale of humanity, sub-human, or not human at all. Hitler demonstrably viewed jews, homosexuals, the infirm, political enemies and the mentally ill through “I-It” filters.
In both “I-I” and “I-It” categories there’s a serious deficiency in the way people see others. It’s easy to say that narcissists and egoists are just thoughtless people who don’t care a fig about others, but there’s more to it than that. There appears to be an unconscious thinking ‘block’ which somehow prevents them from viewing others as they view themselves. The can also view others as themselves: “what’s good for me is good for everyone”. In placing far less value on other human beings, they find it easier to ignore the essential humanity, the needs, the feelings of others.
In the more extreme cases, narcissists can demonstrate a cognitive disability in which people are not people, as we know them, but are seen as objects with about as much emotional content as a chair you sit on. With only “I-I” or “I-It” relationships to sustain them, and being a member of an in-crowd of one, they are, in many ways, lonely captives of the singular worlds they create.
Getting to I - You
There is a growing body of evidence that points to many charismatic personalities and leaders manifesting strong narcissistic tendencies. However, I’ve studied a number of charismatic individuals who have had a mature enough level of self-knowledge to notice how such attributes rob them of their ability to inspire and lead others.
The good news is that people can outgrow narcissistic behaviour if they choose. The most effective way of growing out of it is to get ‘out there’ and get curious.
One of the best ways I’ve noticed that self-aware individuals break the “I-I” or “I-It” habits is to temper their narcissistic tendencies by getting really curious about the key drivers of individual and group behaviour. They begin to notice how they impact on others; they observe when people’s lights go out when they’re speaking with them; they notice the subtle and not so subtle verbal and physiological reactions they evoke in specific situations; they notice which value words inspire people and they begin to build up a picture of when they really “click” with people.
“I-I” and “I-It” relationships kill rapport. An “I-You” covenant with audiences, groups and individuals allows you to share space with people and is one of the key building blocks of influence and persuasion.
Humour me for a moment. Please do not think of George Bush the Younger wearing a red tutu and sitting on the Queen of England’s face while lecturing her Foreign Secretary on effective ways in which to torture Donald Rumsfeld’s wife.
O.K. so I picked a fairly mundane situation with a high level of probability, but what if I had asked you not to think of something that was much more improbable and highly ridiculous – like the same George the Younger bringing in a balanced budget or working for World Peace? Try not thinking about that one.
Were you successful in not thinking of what I asked to not to think of? Of course not! The human brain can’t process effectively negatives of this type. When instructed not to think of something, the first thing you usually do is think of it, don’t you?
And so what do you think happens when some seminar guru tells you to say to yourself a hundred times “I will NOT say umm and err in my speech” or sets you up to deliver an ad-lib and instructs the rest of the group to throw ping pong balls at you every time you intone an err or an umm?
Because the human brain can’t process negatives of the type we are discussing, the reverse occurs, and if you were to recite a hundred times “I must not use umms and errs in my speech” you would be effectively giving yourself a hundred instructions to do the reverse. There’s a lot of research to back up this assertion, particularly in the field of strengths-based psychology.
Aversion therapy works for my pet Whippet, but there is a suggestion that humans are a little more sentient than a Whippet, and correspondingly need more sophisticated methods to change irritating behaviours.
The human brain, however, is very good at actuating things that it has been instructed to do as opposed to being instructed not to do. So, secret number one in creating a strategy to present an ad-lib or speech that is rhythmic, flowing and articulate is to find the right set of instructions to deliver those things to you.
Here is one such instruction that I have found that has worked wonders with countless erring ummers I’ve coached:
“I pause and reflect quickly on what I’m going to say next before continuing my speech smoothly and confidently.”
Say that to yourself a hundred times and see what happens!
You can come up with as many variations on this theme as your creativity will permit. The point is that if you wish to avoid a particularly irritating behaviour, you must first think of replacing it with a behaviour that will produce the outcome you want.
You can’t just banish aberrant behaviours with a demand to stop – you must think about a useful behaviour that will replace it and give your brain a set of instructions that it can work with.
If you can transform those instructions into a multi-media event – all the better. In giving yourself the above set of verbal instructions, visualise yourself speaking smoothly and confidently and begin to notice how good it feels to be articulately expressing your point. And as you do, pan away to the audience and observe how they are drawn to you and your content. Great eh?
Do that a few times and notice the difference. That’s secret number two!
A major step in learning how to intone the soft music of charismatic communication is to recognise that some words have greater value than others. You may realise that words backed by honest intentions are more valuable than those that are not. Further, some words have the potential to dramatically increase the value of your linguistic cash at hand. They can purchase more attention, more meaning, more understanding and more agreement.
If you invest your words wisely and seek to expand people’s choices with the persuasive words you use, people will begin to view you as a true leader. After all, if people associate you with benefit and choice, will they not be drawn to you for further guidance?
One of the most powerful words in the universe is the name by which you identify yourself. It will most likely be your first name, unless it’s a nickname that you embraced fully as a child and carried into adulthood. The mention of your favoured name can stop you in your tracks. Notice how you’re so highly attuned to hear that name that it can rise out of the din of a crowded room and fight its way to your ears.
Equally so, you associate your favoured name with gaining the full attention of others. From birth, you heard the sound of your name repeatedly and connected it to your being the centre of its’ speaker’s attention. Generally, you associated the speaking of your name with a positive emotion, like pleasure in being the focus of others.
If you use a person’s favoured name, either at the beginning or end of a sentence containing a suggestion, you will significantly increase the likelihood of the message being received favourably. Using an individual’s name anchors a positive emotional stimulus (as in the comfortable feeling you generally experience when people mention you by name) with the suggestion or statement contained in the sentence.
When communicating with groups and larger audiences it becomes impossible to refer to individuals by name, however you may like to consider selecting key, or influential, members of your audience and applying the above technique. If you have framed your sentence appropriately, their nods of agreement will have a powerful impact on the rest of your listeners.
Given that you cannot mention each and every member of a larger audience by name, what can you do to create similar outcomes to the examples given above? Think about it. What pronouns do you use when you think about yourself or engage in silent self-talk? You generally use the first person singular “I” or “Me”, don’t you? So, apart from having a particular affection for your favoured name, “I” and “Me” are substitutes for the name that embodies your broader sense of self.
If someone is to trigger the “I-Me” in you, which pronoun would be best suited for the job? The second person singular pronoun “You” would have to be first choice, wouldn’t it? If someone addresses you in the second person singular pronoun “You”, they’re directly triggering your “I-Me” sense of your self, are they not?
You may be thinking that “You” is also a second person plural pronoun. And, when it’s used to refer to a group, as opposed to each separate individual within a group, it can isolate the speaker from the group, rather than enjoin the speaker and group in shared space, and right you are. So, the secret is to refer to the singular “You”, and not the plural “You”, when you’re addressing groups, because you can speak with each individual as an individual if you use the “You” pronoun properly.
The singular “You” is one of the most important words in the English language because it triggers the “I-me” in your listeners and sends a strong signal that your content is all about them, and not yourself. In using the singular “You”, can you sense how you’re symbolically directing your attention towards each individual in the group? Have you ever, for example, attended a speech and felt that the speaker was communicating directly with you, or heard someone say, “I felt I was the only person in the room and that she was talking directly to me.”? Chances are the speaker framed most of her core message in the singular “You”.
This simple technique replaces the traditional relationship with audiences where listeners’ attention is directed towards the speaker. The reasons for doing this are becoming increasingly important. The singular “You” is becoming more necessary as people’s pre-occupation with themselves and their problems increase. It seems people have less time and attention to give to others in today’s high-pressure environment. Conversational Narcissism, where people constantly refer conversations back to themselves in a relentless pursuit of attention, appears to be a by-product of contemporary life.
An argument you might find quite compelling and rewarding is that if you design a form of communication that mirrors your listeners’ inclinations towards self-attention, your message will have a substantially better chance of being heard and acted upon. The second person singular pronoun “You” is pure linguistic gold because it taps into this trend and purchases the attention of your listener/s. Moreover, It earns the higher interest of your audience because it triggers emotions similar to those evoked when people hear their own name. It places you, the listener, at the centre of the communication.
During the Renaissance it was a common belief that the eyes were the entry-point (or window) to the human soul. But this notion of eyes, souls and points of entry had a much longer history - a history that can be traced back to the early Greeks and Plato. Today, of course, science tells us that the eye is the only part of the human brain visible to others.
We do indeed reveal our soul (temperament or emotional state) through our eyes and we know that other human beings have cottoned on to it since the times of the early Greeks. It is through the eyes that we truly reveal who we are.
Eye contact helps to regulate the flow of communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker's credibility. Speakers who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth and credibility.
Eye contact is an important signal of integrity and forthrightness in Western cultures. Prolonged eye contact in Eastern cultures is considered impolite or a sign of sexual interest.
The literature on persuasion and influence is filled with references to the importance of eye contact. In studies which manipulated body gestures, posture, vocal fluency and eye contact to determine their impact and efficacy, the results consistently showed that eye contact was a key factor in establishing and maintaining trust.
The most effective way to make credible eye contact is to combine it with an external focus, a focus that reflects your consciousness of your surroundings. If you make eye contact with an internal, self-conscious focus, your listener/s will unconsciously register that your full attention is not directed on them.
Nervous, darting eyes convey various impressions to an audience and not only that of nervousness. People may interpret rapid eye movements as shiftiness, lack of confidence, fear of being discovered, and so on.
Avoid looking down. While it may be necessary on occasions to refer to notes, place your notes an angle where you’re your eyes do not look down further than your gaze to those in the front quadrant of your audience. Looking down closes you off from your audience, and if you’re not looking down for a purpose, people may interpret it as shyness, shame or lack of self-confidence.
Eyes and facial Expression
One type of unconscious facial movement that is less apt to be read clearly by an audience is involuntary frowning. This type of frowning occurs when a speaker attempts to deliver a memorised speech. There are no rules governing the use of specific expressions, as context is always the key factor in the impressions you give. But If you relax your inhibitions and allow yourself to respond naturally to your thoughts, attitudes and emotions, your facial expressions will be appropriate and will project sincerity, conviction and credibility.
When you are recalling information, remembering a point or visualising a scene, tilt your head and eyes upward a little and let people see that you are thinking. Recall what you do with your head, eyes and body when you are deeply engaged in recalling interesting information. Give yourself permission to do naturally what you do in everyday situations.
Often people look at others with a wider-angled gaze, not directing their focus on those with whom they’re communicating. This gives the appearance of looking ‘through’ people rather than looking at them. Here, the depth of field is beyond the person’s head. Avoid the ‘space cadet’ gaze and set your focus directly on the person/people you are addressing.
Some people have a habit of focussing their gaze beyond the eyeballs of others. The depth of field or point at which their focus makes contact is roughly two centimetres behind the retina. This can have a pleasing effect when accompanied by a genuine smile however some care needs to be exercised because it conveys intimacy. Lovers do it all the time, but it’s truly intimidating with a stony or serious facial expression.
The most effective form of eye contact is where you can establish a focus that takes in the eyes, lids, eyebrows, and some of the musculature around the eyes of individuals with whom you are communicating.
Grid Eye Contact
When speaking to groups, make sure everyone is included in your gaze. Select individuals one by one and pay direct attention to them for approximately ten seconds, long enough to deliver one complete ‘byte’ of information. Move on to the next individual and continue the process throughout your presentation.
For large audiences, select grids of people and apply the above process, speaking to one grid at a time. Alternate by picking out faces at random and speaking to them directly. In television interviews and appearances, pay full attention to the questioner.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006
The term, "Inoculation Theory," is drawn from the public health practice of giving injections to prevent a serious disease from taking hold.
How does this process work? The theory is that injecting a very mild dose of a virus activates the body's defences, giving the immune system the forewarning needed to build up defences against it. The immune system defends itself against the weak attack and it actually becomes stronger. If the virus attacks again, the immune system can ward off the larger raid against the body.
The first injection must be weak. If the injection contained too strong a dose, it would overpower the immune system, leaving it defenceless against the viral invader. It would cause the person to become ill and may even result in death. The dose must have enough of the virus to activate the immune system, but must not be so virulent as to conquer the host and kill it.
The application to persuasion is obvious. If you want to reinforce or strengthen existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, inoculation theory suggests that you should present a weak attack on those attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Again, the attack must be appropriately weak, because if the attack is too strong it may well overpower the existing attitude, belief or behaviour and kill it. The attack has only to be powerful enough to activate the defences of the listener so that at the end of the exchange the mental immune system can beat off a future attack against it.
Below is the process for inoculation:
1. Warn the listener of the impending attack.
“Some people may tell you that you’re harming your future if you ………”
2. Launch a weak attack.
“They will say………etc., etc.………and if you were to know how would you effectively argue against what they say?”
3. Get the receiver to actively defend the attitude.
The steps are as follows.
Warn of the Attack
The warning plays a important role in the inoculation process. It stimulates existing defences in the listener. You may notice that it is normal to feel threatened when people warn you of an impending attack…your defences are immediately triggered. It is also normal that when feeling an imminent threat you automatically begin to man your battle stations and get ready for it.
Remember that last time you felt moderately threatened - a range of
possible defensive actions began to circulate within the realms
of your conscious attention, didn't they?
When threatened, many people start immediately to prepare a counter-defence against the incoming attack. They may construct a range of possible responses and counter-moves, some of which may never be deployed. This is what occurs amongst the strategists and tactitians on the battlefield.
Because the vast majority of people become hijacked by the
'Argument is War' conceptual metaphor, they interpret such
attacks in the same way as they would physical or life
threatening attacks. They will act 'within the metaphor' and
organise their defenses in such a way as to attempt to defeat
As in real war, many of the defenses may not be deployed
in resisting the incoming assault, but they are there in
readiness, just in case circumstances require they be called
The key point to remember that warning of an impending attack
triggers manning of the barricades and the process of over
-preparing in the face of an impending attack. Their efforts will
not be wasted because,as in real conflict, beingprepared for a
range of enemy actions is the key to survival.
Launch a Weak Attack
An attack on a belief, value or behaviour is viewed by most people at a deeper level as an attack on their person. Few people make the distinction between themselves as individuals and the beliefs and values they embody. This is because the prevalent metaphor on argument in the western world is that of Argument is War. That is why we 'win' arguments; blow our opponents out the the water and use every trick in the book to ensure that that we are not overwhelmed by the enemy.
Advertisers "attack" our existing attitudes when they try to get us to prefer their product to a competitor. Parents "attack" their children’s beliefs about proper conduct in public. A weak attack as part of the inoculation process is nothing extraordinary as both weak and strong attacks on our thoughts, feelings and actions go on all the time.
It is imperative that your attack when applying the inoculation technique be weak and ineffectual. If you mount a strong attack, there is a strong possibility that the thought, feeling or action you wish to fortify may be weakened, cause confusion or be overwhelmed.
Remember, in flagging a weak attack on an idea, belief, value
or behaviour, that you are seeking to reinforce an existing position
and not seeking to change an individual's mind to an opposite position.
If Louis Pasteur, for example, used a powerful injection when
conducting human testing on his rabies vaccineall his patients
would have been overwhelmed, dead.
The attack must only be strong enough to force the listeners to defend. It must not be so strong as to overcome the person’s defences.
Ensure the Receiver Actively Defends
Extensive research by social psychologists has revealed that the more vigorously an inoculated person defends against an attack, the more deep-seated and enduring the existing attitude will become. A vigorous defence implies that the individual not only thinks of counter-arguments, but also verbalises the counter-arguments. Ensure you get the listener to passionately and verbally mount their defence.
It is also vital to the success of the inoculation process that that the defence is mounted with minimal outside interference. You must let the listener do the defending. As in life, if other people fight your battles you never have the chance to learn how to effectively protect yourself against future attacks. The listener must conduct his or her own defence, using their own ordnance and battle plans so they do not learn helplessness.
Why Does It Work?
Inoculation works because it causes the receivers to engage in systematic processing about the attitude object. The weak attack threatens the receivers and forces them to think more carefully, deeply, and with more effort. In essence, inoculation causes the listener to think about the object of the attack. The more they think, the stronger the attitude becomes. All you do is provide the weak attack and that stimulates the hosts immune system against attack.
A key point of inoculation is to get people to think for themselves. When people actively generate their own ideas and thoughts and then have to vigorously defend those ideas and thoughts, they will develop considerably stronger attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.
Inoculation theory has been applied to advertising, political campaigning, social marketing, and often in change management.
Recent research shows that voters are regularly the subject of inoculation practices in election and political campaigns. For example, one party may send out literature to potential voters warning them that an opposing party is likely to mount an attack on them or one or more of their candidates on specified issues. The letter would provide a weak version of the attacks, enabling the target voter to easily fend off the attack. When the real attack is mounted, the potential voter is more likely to be able to resist it.
Inoculation is particularly useful when you are speaking publicly, however it is at its most powerful and effective when you can ensure that the listener actually engages in verbal defence. For this reason it is recommended that you consider using the technique for internal presentations, such as board presentations, staff meetings, and issues that deal with physical, commercial, and cultural change.
Inoculation theory is also useful when you are canvassing customers, particularly when you are dealing with customers who may come into contact with the sales rhetoric of competitors.
Revisit the three steps of inoculation: Warning, weak attack, vigorous defence. In going through each phase, bear in mind the following vital points.
First, the warning must serve as a threat that an attack is coming. This activates systematic thinking. Next, let there be some delay between the warning and the actual attack. This will permit more thinking and defence building.
Second, the attack must challenge, but not overwhelm the receivers. This is a delicate and subtle point. Instead of causing them to strengthen the attitude, belief, or behaviour, you might cause them to question and doubt that attitude, belief, or behaviour. Use the receivers' behaviour as a cue. If the receivers are not defending themselves and instead appear to be nervous or upset, your attack is too strong and will not work.
Finally, encourage active defending. Get each person to say or do something that shows that his or her defences are strengthening. Resist the temptation to weigh in with your own arguments, because people only learn how to be strong by doing the hard yards themselves.
A superb way in which to apply the innoculation theory is to combine it with hynotic language patterns. My book, The Charisma Effect, details how to use specific language patterns that guide listeners along particular paths of thought.
Only comment within the range of your knowledge and expertise. If a question takes you beyond your knowledge or specialist area, say so:
“I can only talk about what I know. A salinity expert is the person you want to speak to about that.”
“I have no knowledge about that specific case. It would be unfair to comment without examining the facts, wouldn’t it?”
If you don’t know, say you don’t know and promise to find out:
“I don’t know the answer to that question. But I can find out and get back to you.”
If you don’t have a figure or detail at hand, say you will have to get back to the reporter on that.
Assume that your own facts and figures are the only reliable ones. Facts and figures mention by a reporter or interviewer may be incorrect or incorrectly interpreted. Only comment on statistics and detail that you know are true:
“Look I’m not at all sure those figures are correct. I would need to check their accuracy before I could talk about them.”
“I’d need to know the sample size, and look at the framing of the questions before I gave any credence to that survey. Questions can be so easily doctored, can’t they?”
Surveys commissioned by groups partial to a particular viewpoint should be treated with extreme caution. Opinion pollsters know that subtle changes of the wording of a question can produce dramatically different results.
Ensure that the words that come out of your mouth are your own. A common ploy of interviewers and reporters is to include their own opinions in a question. Go on high alert when you hear phrases like the following precede a question:
“Don’t you think….”
“So what you’re saying is….”
“Are you saying….”
“Isn’t it really….”
Do not mirror the interviewers words back to them:
Instead of: “No I don’t think it’s a case of bureaucratic ineptitude”
Rephrase positively “We have to establish the facts first before we spend your tax dollar”
Make sure your main point/s is up front of your answer. Couch your answers in the positive and say what you are doing and not what you are not doing
Instead of: “No, we are not discriminating against Aborigines.”
Rephrase: “We encourage indigenous people to apply for the jobs.”
Speak in the first-person, active voice as it is important that you convey the impression of action, involvement, and decisiveness.
Statements like “The program will be initiated on a trial basis in Pittsburgh.” reek of dispassion and distance. “We will trial this new program in Pittsburgh first” indicates involvement and action.
Always reflect empathy towards the human side of things.
“The economic downturn in the housing industry has forced the downsizing on us.” speaks volumes about you not caring.
“It was a tough decision. We reluctantly had to let people go because there was no work.” indicates you are taking responsibility for having made a difficult decision. Remember governments, organisations, and companies don’t make decisions or formulate policy, people do!
Follow Einstein’s Rule: Everything should be made as simple as possible.
Short simple answers are better than long, complicated ones
Use concrete language
A few short, simple sentences using everyday language give the interviewer and your stake-holders less chance of misinterpreting you
Simplicity is important in electronic news gathering. You should be able to make your major points to fit a 20 – 30 second grab.
Treat your audience as intelligent but never overestimate your audience's knowledge
Explain your terms when covering a difficult subject: better still, think of concrete terms or similes that explain your ideas
Avoid jargon, acronyms, abstract language, and polysyllabic pomp
Use metaphor to illustrate your point
Don’t talk down to people
Instead of “What you have to understand…” say something like “If you consider”
Relate hypothetical questions to concrete examples.It may be unwise to comment on hypothetical cases. Instead, particularise them:
“That’s a hypothetical question, so it’s impossible to know what would happen. But let me tell you what did happen in a similar case”
Tell the truth. Lying can destroy the carefully built credibility of your organisation.
You do not have to volunteer information which may be misinterpreted
You do not have to reveal information as you would in a confessional
You can say “I cannot tell you that. You wouldn’t want me to betray the trust of the people involved, would you?”
You can say “That will be announced in a fortnight. Everyone will get to know at the same time and that way no-one will have an advantage”
You can say “That is commercially sensitive information and as you can appreciate I can’t tell you about it”
Keep control of the agenda. Beware of the interviewer or reporter who wants to broaden the agenda.
Sometimes interviewers and reporters request an interview under one guise in order to put you on the spot about something else. This is a dishonest practice, and it’s perfectly acceptable to point out the dishonesty:
“You invited me here to talk about our Skilled migrant Program and now you’re asking me questions on a very sensitive subject that I have not had a chance to be briefed on. I can not be a party to such dishonesty.”
“You told me you wanted to talk about employment opportunities in our industry. Now you bring up a case of alleged sexual harassment that I have no information on. Do you think that’s fair or honest?”
On occasions interviewers and reporters want to get too personal. On those occasions, take the point and broaden it:
“How do I balance my duties as a corporate executive, husband and father? That question clearly illustrates the problems that many American working couples have to contend with….”
When interviewers attempt to expand their range of questions beyond the immediate subject area, rein the discussion in:
“Wait a moment. Let’s flesh out the problem of bringing unethical lawyers to account before we move into the so-called high costs of justice”
Keep your focus on your side of the argument. Some politicians and others spend most of their time trying to demolish the arguments of their opposite numbers. This focuses attention on your opponents arguments instead of yours.
By ‘sticking to the knitting’ you ensure that your points of view are the ones that get coverage
State your case positively and tell people about the features, advantages, and benefits of your position
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006
Media exposure is a double-edged sword. It can allow you to cut through the layers of distance and make a direct connection with your target public. But, in media interviews if you dont pay careful attention to what you say and how you say it that sword may become the thing upon which you fall.
REMEMBER YOUR STAKEHOLDERS
While you may be talking with a reporter or interviewer, you are ultimately speaking to a readership or audience. frame your answers from the perspective of your main stake-holders:
- “If this legislation goes ahead, you wont be able to drive on our country roads without the very real hazard of road trains anywhere in the state. Your personal safety will be at risk”
- “This new process will mean that you can harvest your crop and not worry about pesticide residues getting into the food chain.”;'
BE CLEAR AND DIRECT
Begin each response to a question with your most important point (theme) to ensure the point will be clear and direct.
- “Safety, reliability, and a quick response are the key factors in our new plan .”……(lead on to supporting statements)
- “Bureaucracies are the hardened arteries of Government. Private competition ups the ante and gets everyone working better”
- “There is a growing strength in women, but it’s in the forehead, not the forearm.”
SPEAK IN SOUND BITES
Be able to articulate each of your lead points in less than fifteen words. leading with short, encapsulating points is extremely useful for news “sound bites”.
short lead points in radio interviews quickly define your arguments and link into the Primacy/Recency rule. Some of what you say may end up on the cutting room floor. Design your lead responses to compel editors to include them
USE TACTICLY THE REPORTER'S OR INTERVIEWERS NAME
Refer to an interviewer by name a couple of times during an interview – don’t overdo it.
In print interviews, refer to the journalist by name as you usually would in ordinary conversation
BALANCE HOW YOU SAY WITH WHAT YOU SAY
How you say things is as important as what you say. The mass media admires people who are energetic, involved, and direct in what they say. Make sure your responses are forthright and enthusiastic.
Generally, respond quickly and energetically to questions – use pause only for dramatic effect.
Demonstrate the strength of your convictions. Respond with candour and confidence because indecision and insincerity can be magnified on radio and television
HUMANISE YOUR RESPONSES
Your field of expertise is interesting to you. So why not make it interesting to your audience or readership?
One of the obstacles of media visibility is stereotyping: academics viewed as dispassionate pointy heads, politicians being perceived as snake oil sellers, bureaucrats seen as interested in process before people, etc. Make sure that you dispel the stereotype by connecting your message to people and avoid at all costs the temptation to appear self important
DON'T BE PRESSURED INTO RESPONDING INSTANTLY TO A DIFFICULT QUESTION ON A COMPLEX SUBJECT
Notwithstanding the above advice on, use bridging statements to give yourself time to refer back to your main themes:
- “Let’s look at the important principles of this…..”
- “That’s an interesting way of looking at it, but it stills boils down to…..”
- “Yes, but what are the really important issues to be resolved here…..”
bridge your response back to your major points
Board presentations in many ways are no different to presentations to other audiences and groups. In board presentations you still need to:
- have completed a thorough stakeholders exercise and know as much as you can about the members of the board and their attitudes;
- know your subject;
- know what you want the board to say ‘Yes!’ to;
- find some key ‘values’ or ‘emotions’ on which to hang your presentation;
- structure your content to make it easily digestible;
- deliver your content confidently;
- wear the right uniform and talk the talk of your stakeholders.
Would a written report be a better way of gaining board support? Written reports are useful when there is a great deal of technical data, a complicated process that needs careful scrutiny, or where a number of lead-up steps need to be taken before a case needs to be stated or advocated.
Some executives use the tactic of providing written reports that deliver high levels of data and proposing that the board ‘accept’ the reports. Then, they round off with a presentation on ‘Best Case’.
Having decided if a presentation is the best course of action, review the following tips and ideas to determine which ones suit your personal circumstances.
In studies conducted by Professor Jay Conger of the University of Southern California, it was found that effective corporate persuaders would select influential and savvy colleagues and superiors to get an emotional reading from them prior to engaging in processes of persuasion. They would question how various ideas and proposals might impact emotionally and logically on staff, superiors or board members. This enabled them to acknowledge and mirror in their proposals the emotional state and expectations of those they were seeking to persuade.
In board presentations, it makes supreme sense to discuss your proposals during the development phase and avoid the situation of ‘springing’ a completely new proposal on your board. Where possible, consider the following:
- Try out your raw ideas on various board members before you finalise them. If you can’t access board members, test your proposals on your colleagues, CEO, or other senior execs in the know, during the development phase of your ideas. Elicit from them/him/her as much detail of board attitudes as possible. Make amendments to satisfy any concerns or ideas expressed.
- Notice or discover the ‘value’ words board members use, such as ‘shareholders interests’, ‘profitability’, ‘responsibility’ ‘market share’ ‘credibility’ and other key words that relate to fundamental concepts and principles embraced by your board. Find ways of linking your key ideas to the value words you have elicited. Value words also provide benchmarks that you can employ when delivering board reports, as opposed to submissions.
- Get to know your subject from ‘both sides’. An audience of board members is generally a demanding audience where assumptions, judgements and proposals may well be challenged.
- To avoid being unprepared for challenges, become a Devil’s Advocate of your own position. Research the downside of your proposal and build up a comprehensive idea of the other side of your argument, proposal or idea. Get colleagues to pull your proposal apart if they can.
- Complete an opportunity-cost exercise so you can be the one who says something along the lines of “I would be remiss if I didn’t detail the potential costs and pitfalls of this proposal….” complete with well thought out ideas on how to neutralise or minimise those costs and pitfalls.
- Having a very clear picture of opposing arguments and the pitfalls and negatives inherent in your proposal will allow you to pre-test the validity of your position. It also prepares you for demanding or difficult questions during, and at the end of, your presentation.
- Understand clearly the format required. Often, executives turn up to a board meeting with their content well prepared but with little idea on the format of the presentation. Boards like exercising their power (Who hasn’t sat outside a board meeting stewing while waiting to be summoned?) and your board will probably demand you deliver your presentation according to its rules and not yours.
- Ensure you know how the board likes information, reports and proposals to be presented. Schmooze a board secretary, ask your CEO or a sympathetic board member to discover how the board likes presentations to be delivered and follow the rules rigidly. By delivering your presentation in a familiar format you increase the persuasive power of your presentation.
- Know who the tyrants are and what their hobbyhorses are. Board members are no different to any other group. Often board members will make statements or ask questions simply to show off their knowledge. It is wise to determine if any of your content will touch upon pet subjects of individual board members. In such cases you need to design tactics that either appeal to, or circumvent, particular positions of individual board members.
- Know where the power resides. What power blocs operate within the board? As a managing director you may well know who the ‘Alpha’ personalities are on your board. If you are not a CEO, find out as much as you possibly can about the power politics of your board. You are then in a position to tailor your content to the values and beliefs of the alphas or to the dominant power bloc on the board.
You have approximately thirty seconds to four minutes (depending on which research you rely on) to establish an initial relationship with your board. These first few valuable minutes of the encounter will determine the degrees of attention members will be willing to invest on your presentation and whether they choose to actively process what you have to say. Opening statements in board presentations are crucial
Design a powerful opening statement. If your opening statement is clumsy and inept, expect board members to label you as such and to process what they hear through that filter. People rarely separate the person from his/her behaviour in such instances. If your statement is confused, woolly, silly or uncertain, don’t be surprised when you notice that a fair number of your board have turned their cognitive lights out.
Make your content relevant. Persuasion researchers have found that one of the most important variables in triggering motivation to think about a message is personal relevance. Personal relevance can stem from a variety of factors: linkage to personal beliefs and values, desired outcomes, group expectations, plans for the future, corporate vision, issues of personal relevance to the board as a whole and shared experiences to name a few.
When the relevance quotient of a message is high it’s been found that people will be more motivated to scrutinise and think about its content. If your arguments bear scrutiny then you can expect to achieve higher degrees of persuasion.
During your front-end phase discover ways in which to make the content relevant to your board. If you work in a specialised division avoid at all costs the gobbledygook and in-house language of your division. Translate your content into language that is relevant to board members.
Keep your presentation concise, succinct and to-the-point. Don't present too much detail, such that the impact of your presentation gets buried under the weight of the data you present.
Think about the level of energy you will incorporate into your delivery. Often presenters are in awe of their boards and allow this self-defeating emotion to impact on the degree of energy they invest in their delivery. Think carefully about how you will need to display the ‘courage of your convictions’.
This is not to say that you should fake energy or go over the top, but your board will be reading at an unconscious level the degree of belief you have in the position you are advocating. If you are flat and monotone, be prepared for your board to ‘feel’ that your heart isn’t in it.
Tell poignant and relevant stories. Passion by itself isn't the only necessary ingredient to getting your message across. One of the major tools you can use when talking to a board is to tell stories that prove your point.
Design support material to be released after the presentation. Board members are usually fairly busy individuals. Design your handouts to include dot point summaries of the key points you have introduced in your presentation. Give your handouts at the end of the presentation. Avoid overwhelming the board with written information unless it is part of your strategy for the board to sink in a sea of paperwork. Avoid passing documents around before your presentation, as some members will direct their attention to what is written instead of focussing on you.
Work the room as much as you can. Boards usually sit around tables and this can make it difficult to work a room:
- Always stand when you are making a board presentation
- Be careful to make sure all members have sight of multi-media presentations or overhead transparencies
- Always face the board when you are talking to points projected on to a screen, only briefly looking at the screen to keep your thoughts in order
- Avoid using a lectern
- Choreograph your movement by visiting the boardroom prior to a presentation. If possible do a complete dress rehearsal in the boardroom so you can comfortably work the space you have
- Inform the board how you are going to do your presentation. If you decide that questions and answers would better be left until the end of your presentation make sure that you say something along the lines of “In this presentation can we explore the proposal first and open up for discussion at the end?”
- Ensure your presentation is not all about you. Novice speakers often imagine that if they ejaculate a stream of information at a board it will soak it up like a sponge and become instantly informed, persuaded or convinced.
It may pay you to remember that board members are people too, and that boards, like most executives in the top companies, make decisions based on gut feel before logic is applied. The usual laws of vivid evidence, inclusive language, appropriate emotional appeals and communication in ‘shared space’ apply to board presentations as much as they do to any other presentation. Boards also like the word ‘You’
Dare to be different at times. Conduct actual "show and tell" demonstrations. Rather than simply presenting reports or making presentations, take board members on a tour and explain how your new proposal will work and how it may enhance quality, safety, service and costs.
Design a memorable conclusion to your presentation. Your closing statement represents your last word on the subject matter. It’s your final opportunity to make a difference. Your last minutes and seconds in front of your board should represent a determining moment for them, a turning point where your message should culminate in a fusion of impressions that leads to the suggestion of action. Is this not the ultimate purpose of your a board presentation?
Summarise your previous spoken content, then leave the board with a few words that are memorable or make a significant impact. Using a quotation, asking a powerful question or presenting a challenging future scenario can also create the right conditions for approval or a positive impression.
“Memory is a crazy woman that hoards coloured rags and throws away food”… Austin O’Malley
Experimental psychologist A.D.Baddeley demonstrated in his research that people generally recall a series of short words better than they recall a series of long words. As early as 1965 it was demonstrated that retention of spoken information in the short term, or working, memory peaks at about fifteen seconds. Waugh and Norman, writing in the Psychological Review, established that retention falls off dramatically after the fifteen second barrier.
Short words rather than long words included in short sentences rather than sentences longer than fifteen seconds assist your listeners to work within the confines of their working memories, and long sentences crammed with multi-syllable and unfamiliar words, perhaps accompanied by qualifications and subordinate clauses that, if people haven’t given you their fullest attention, and let’s face it they often don’t, will lead to confusion and indeed loss of meaning, probably about half way through, can turn an address into a kind of into a marathon requiring the cognitive endurance of a mensa candidate and ultimately everyone including yourself will probably have forgotten the starting point of the idea you sought to express (if, incidentally, there was one in the first place) before they ever reach the end of your verbal onslaught. Of course you get the point, don’t you?
The most glaringly obvious verbal onslaughts are usually contained in written speeches. A point well worth remembering when you initially write out a speech or address is to use the written word purely as a phonetic representation of spoken language. In other words, do write as you speak and avoid writing content that makes you speak as you write.
When writing any part of a verbal presentation bear in mind that people do not generally speak in sentences: they speak in sense bursts. In oral communication, people process words in chunks or phrases. Pick up a book of well-written poetry and notice how it’s set out. Good, conventional poetry is far closer in style to spoken language than a lot of the stodge that professional speechwriters churn out.
Memorable presentations are ones that allow listener/s to process your information and build a memory picture or cognitive map as they go along. In speaking for maximum conformity to how a person’s working memory works, select from the following guidelines:
- make your language simple, clear, precise, and make sure you use concrete words. The majority of your listeners need concrete words, and plenty of verbs, to understand your content.
- Don’t use pollie-speak, bureaucratese, moneyspeak or any of the other gobbeldygook languages. You don’t need to inflate your intellectual vanity by telling your audience you know how to speak like a pointy-head.
- Convert specialist acronyms and shorthand descriptions into clear, unambiguous language. Eg. Instead of CPI, call it the Cost of Living.
- Contain one idea per sentence. Long sentences with subordinate or dependent clauses are for books, magazine, and newspapers, not spoken language.
- Go and get de-purpled if you’re into purple prose. Be careful and economical with adjectives and flowery language. Be unique, yes, but try not to be pompous.
- Use active voice and tense when you wish to get people really involved in your content. Use the passive voice and tense when you want your listeners to be detached observers of some experience. Too much usage of passive voice however can result in an audience becoming lethargic and disinterested.
- Build your argument logically. Use illustrations and visual imagery to connect point to point.
- Use metaphors, as they are a short way for your listener to understand often complex ideas. Don’t mix your metaphors or you may find yourself up a tree without a paddle!
- Be careful with tautologies, like “new initiative” “lone individual” and all those other sillinesses because they direct your listener’s attention away from your argument.
- Build in suspense, questions, and cliff-hangers.
(c) desmond Guilfoyle 2006
A large body of research has been conducted into what is termed by cognitive scientists as metaphor. So as not to muddy the waters, think of metaphor as a template or lens through which you view the world. Cognitive scientists have been systematically unpacking the significance of conceptual metaphor in our daily lives since the sixties.
Those scholars propose that metaphors are not simply playthings of the mind, but are a “natural outgrowth of the manner in which our minds are constituted”. What that means is that conceptual metaphors are product of your neurophysiology, that you have a genetic predisposition to attribute meaning to things by way of metaphor.
George Lakoff is professor of cognitive sciences at the University of California at Berkely and he asserts that metaphor rules almost all of our thinking:
“We may not always know it, but we think in metaphor. A large proportion of our most commonplace thoughts make use of an extensive, but unconscious, system of metaphorical concepts, that is, concepts from a typically concrete realm of thought that are used to comprehend another, completely different domain. Such concepts are often reflected in everyday language, but their most dramatic effect comes in ordinary reasoning.
Because so much of our social and political reasoning makes use of this system of metaphorical concepts, any adequate appreciation of even the most mundane social and political thought requires an understanding of this system. But unless one knows that the system exists, one may miss it altogether and be mystified by its effects”.
On the conscious level metaphor can create shortcuts to understanding: cognition as the crow flies. Say, you have a complex idea you need to get across. The choice is yours: you can take your audience on a energy-sapping trek through the terrain, cross raging rivers of data, scale each conceptual obstacle as you come to it and finally, if you’re lucky, arrive at your destination. Or, you can invite them to take flight, fix their bearings and make their way to journey’s end on the wing of a metaphor.
The above is a crude metaphor for the complex internal processes involved in learning something new by linking it to something you already know or something universally known. It’s also an example of a surface metaphor. You understand the hitherto unknown by associating it or joining it to something familiar. You’re aware of a metaphor being used and you recognise how the metaphor was constructed to illustrate why metaphor can be the shortest way to explain difficult concepts. These types of metaphors are described as superficial, or surface, although they may draw on deeper conceptual metaphors.
Many people imagine metaphor as a by-product of the mastery and creative use of language. Metaphors are viewed as cute linguistic toys and playthings of speech, as tools for those who perhaps fall victim to ornamental expression, often in place of plain talk. Surface metaphor, however, if used appropriately can create powerful shortcuts to comprehension, but it’s important to make a distinction between the two types of metaphor. Conceptual metaphor describes a much deeper process, as you will see.
Researchers have built up a formidable body of linguistic research that proposes that deep metaphoric concepts govern what you perceive, how you negotiate the world and how you communicate with people. They prescribe the way you function right down to the minutiae of daily life. Conceptual systems are generally beyond consciousness and that’s why you may not be aware of how you structure your meaning and how you apply conceptual metaphors.
In the late seventies, Lakoff and Johnson embarked on a project to develop linguistic evidence to point out deficiencies in contemporary theories of meaning. Within weeks of the decision to collaborate, they discovered that Aristotlean logic (what Edward deBono describes as Rock Logic) didn’t allow them to legitimately or in scientific terms raise the type of issues they wanted to address.
Like Korzybski had observed before them, the stumbling block was the two- thousand-three-hundred-year-old notion of objective and subjective reality. They subsequently developed an alternative theory of metaphorical concepts that placed human experience and understanding at the centre of their model of meaning.
Lakoff and Johnson pioneered new theories that took into account how people experience meaning in their lives. They identified a deeply embedded conceptual framework and argued that most of our conceptual system is metaphorically structured.
But who cares what a renowned linguist and a prominent philosopher cooked up between them? Of what relevance is it to the pursuit of charismatic communication? Why is it important to know about conceptual metaphors, and what do you do with the knowledge once you’ve got it? Well, think about it. Conceptual metaphors are generally beyond consciousness and you’re not aware of them governing your thinking or behaviour.
What do you think would happen if someone applied a conceptual metaphor in a speech, conversation, or debate, entrapped you within it and slipped in a few self-serving suggestions? Because metaphor is part of the way you unconsciously make sense of the world, you’d be oblivious to what was happening and may be subject to covert influence without ever knowing it.
Some conceptual metaphors when used as a deliberate technique by your opponents have the power to embroil you in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour that can damage your reputation and credibility. Some unethical communication specialists teach these as a technique to public figures as a means of manipulating their opponents into showing their so-called “true colours”. Experts call the technique ‘conceptual entrapment’ and it can be a frighteningly devious way of triggering the more primitive elements of your personality.
Remember, conceptual metaphors may well play a pivotal role in defining everyday realities. They help structure what you do and help you understand what you’re doing when you’re doing it. While you have a genetic predisposition to consciously and unconsciously process information by way of metaphor, the brain software you use to do it is not content free. What this means is that much of the metaphor software in your brain is culturally or experientially biased - has a lot of content.
Conceptual metaphors can be deliciously seductive, so much so that they can obscure all other kinds of possible conceptions, options, ideas and viewpoints that exist outside of them. People can become so entrapped within a conceptual metaphor that no amount of pleading to view things from another perspective will register. In politics, office environments, social policy debate and even in the home this may have extremely dangerous implications.
In my next post we will review some of the more toxic of these metaphors.
(C0 Desmond Guilfoyle 2004 - 2006
Recall those conversations or speeches you’ve heard where your initial feelings about the speakers were positive but the longer they went on, the less believable you found them. Give your unconscious mind a pat on the back, because it was well and truly on the case. It was most likely picking up a host of linguistic cues that denote lack of commitment, the possibility of deception, and other credulity stretching devices. Below are some of the more common examples that induce what is called incredulity creep, the gradual wearing away of credibility through unintentional admissions of dishonesty or, in some cases, habitual use of verbal crutches:
Honestly, truly, really, certainly, no kidding!
Think about it for a moment, why would anyone preface or end a statement of truth with one of the above words? People usually take direct path in expressing the truth. Any deviation, surely, is significant.
The statement “Honestly, I have explored every avenue, and on balance this is the best option.” is not the shortest way of expressing what the speaker believes is the truth. If uttered without any prior questioning of her honesty, the statement can be seen as a significant cue of sensitivity. In truth, you could expect the speaker to say something like, “Out of all the options I looked at, this is the best one.”
The truth, as you inherently know, requires no heralding of its arrival. In the first example, the speaker may well know that what she is about to say is, in essence, dishonest, and so prefaces her remark with a protestation of honesty in order to deceive those listening. This is a common pattern of language identified by specialists in the scientific analysis of content for deception.
You should avoid prefacing your comments with words such as the above. Ensure you do not use them as verbal crutches, because you will inadvertently trigger sensitivity to deception at the unconscious level of your listeners.
Believe me, believe it or not
“Believe me, there’s no person better equipped to do this job than me.” Now, what do imagine is the motive of the speaker in prefacing his remark with an appeal for you to believe him? Chances are you have already intuited that the speaker wants you to make an immediate decision for fear of the discovery of people who are indeed much better equipped to do the job than him.
In most contexts “Believe me”, and “believe it or not” (remembering that “not” cannot be processed unconsciously) are clues of deceptive behaviour or, in some cases, insecurity or doubtfulness about the veracity of one’s statements. People who have confidence in the truth or validity of their sentences are rarely observed to introduce a perceived truth with an appeal to believe.
“Believe it or not” in some instances can be interpreted as an expression of indifference to listeners. It can also be intuited by people as a means of feigning nonchalance or even-handedness to cover up a strong desire for a lie, or, in some cases, a truth, to be embraced. Avoid these expressions at all costs and develop a habit of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
Naturally, obviously, of course, clearly, it goes without saying
Often, the best deep level interpretations people make of these words are that the speaker is prone to condescension or showing off what they know. One of the easiest ways to lose an audience’s sympathy is to demonstrate a superiority complex through linguistic cues such as the above.
In some contexts, speakers use the above words in an attempt to convince listeners that the ideas etc. that follow are legitimate or normal practice. Don’t you? And, can you not sense at some level when a speaker is using these terms to deceive or win you over on the basis that they’re simply repeating common knowledge?
Words like “obviously”, “clearly”, etc., in some fields of linguistics are termed ‘lost performatives’. If you find yourself on the receiving end of statements like the above, recover the lost performative by asking “Obvious to whom?” or “Clear to Whom?” and notice the interesting replies you elicit.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2004 - 2006
Media research reinforces how emotions drive viewing and listening choices in selected audiences in radio and television. Even ‘Hate Radio’, as we know it, gains its audiences by pressing the emotional Hot Buttons of targeted audiences: outrage buttons, disgust buttons, anger buttons, despair buttons, particularly in the upper demographics. This form of stimulation reinforces a hate radio audience’s pre-existing emotions and may even give them pleasure.
Feelings drive actions: the action media operators are most concerned about is encouraging listeners to commit the act of choice in favour of their products and services - in other words, tune in, and stay tuned in. The same thing applies in presentations to groups – you need your listeners to tune in and stay tuned in if your message is to be heard.
The challenge is, then, to decide on the kind of emotions you wish to evoke in your audiences: emotions that drive listeners to act by choosing to listen and pay attention to you and your message.
They don’t have to be negative emotions like fear, hate, jealousy or outrage, although on some occasions they can legitimately be associated with your message. They can be emotions that are more useful to people’s everyday lives. They can be emotions which stir people to create a better future, generating optimism, hope, humour, strength, control, curiosity and so on.
So, if people think-feel and then commit the act of choice to listen or not listen to you, what kind of emotions could you stir ethically? Below is an incomplete list that you may like to add to:
curiosity confidence exhilaration
enthusiasm shock humour
self-control empowerment desire
hope expectation anticipation
titillation thrill scepticism
suspense belonging sense of knowing
sympathy empathy discovery
happiness joy material desire (greed?)
status triumph (winning) pleasure
concern motivation comfort
encouragement re-assurance disbelief
courage passion certainty
Content is all about positioning. If the content of your message regularly stirs a range of the above emotions, people will associate you with the generally useful emotions evoked. This is what is meant by gaining a ‘Share of Heart’.
By tapping appropriate emotions you can associate pleasure and stimulation with what you’re doing. The linkage of pleasure and stimulation to the experience of listening to your presentation greatly enhances the possibility of your message being taken on board by your audience.
Only Giving Head?
It is a myth that thoughts and feelings can be separated. This myth gives rise to the idea that you can have a discourse, debate, or just a plan old conversation and not feel anything at all.
Much of the rhetoric that many speakers engage in is based on the spurious notion that you can separate thoughts from feeling. This reveals itself in interesting ways:
¨ ‘Hard heads’ who suppress the music and emotion of their voices because it gives them “credibility” and “balance”.
¨ Stories told in abstract language, which removes the ‘life’ from the story.
¨ Real serious discourses with ‘analysis’, without real life examples in which to embed an audience’s experience.
¨ Speakers sounding as if they have the world on their shoulders and every word uttered must be spoken with gravity.
¨ Presenters with personal phobias that reflect a fear of so-called trivialisation.
¨ Discourse using language that removes the speakers or moderator from the ‘dirty world’ of human emotions.
¨ Conversations conducted in ‘surface rhetoric’, such as econo-speak, pollie-speak, or in-house shorthand.
You might be interested to know that the pre-scientific notion of separating thoughts from emotions was revived and championed by a philosopher called Descartes, who lived a couple of hundred years ago.
The notion had been around since biblical times, but he picked it up and ran with it. He proclaimed that somewhere, he wasn’t quite sure where, there existed absolute ‘truth’. His method of finding that somewhere was to somehow lapse into “pure rationality” in order to take a “a God’s Eye view” in the hope that all would be revealed. He failed.
In many ways, the assumption that there is such a thing as objectivity, pure rationality, non-bias and dispassion still governs much of the practice of so-called rational debate and discourse.
Rational debate, by its very rules, demands that you separate thoughts from feelings, and engage in “unfeeling” dialogue. This still happens in some pockets of academia as well as business and the media.
Interestingly, modern psychology has a name for people who have stopped feeling for others, or can’t think-feel in the concrete realm any more. They’re called sociopaths.