A Lesson for Erring Ummers - Kicking the habit of errs and umms

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!

1 comment:

darrellben said...

Great thoughts!
Another great way to kick that err and umm habit:
Learn to tell a joke properly.
It's all the same.
All communication follows the same structure as a joke:
There is a set up, and a pay off (punch line)
Learn to tell a joke, be a more effective speaker.