Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two Extremes In Human Communication

It has been assumed for many years that human communication can be placed on a continuum with informative at one end and persuasive at the other end. It isn’t an unreasonable idea and it helps us to make decisions about what we ought to do under specific circumstances.

For example, you are trying to explain to your spouse how to mix flour with liquid to create something like smooth gravy. In most cases one spouse tells (definitions, examples, demonstrations, examples) the other spouse, often step by step what needs to be done to successfully make the gravy. If the spouse succeeds we can all give thanks and enjoy our meal. But, even if there are delicious lumps throughout the gravy we can still put it on the mashed potatoes. After all, one spouse is teaching the other spouse how to make gravy.

It is likely that the spouse making the gravy has already heard a persuasive speech which caused them to attempt the gravy experiment in the first place.

When we speak primarily to share information then we are teaching. All of us are teachers all of our lives. We may even be unaware that we are teaching some folk because they never bother to tell us that they are learning from our teaching. When we raise children, we are teaching. We teach constantly and not only when we elect to teach. Our children, for example, learn from us how to walk, drive, swear and work. That’s one of the reasons all of us have heard at one time or another “Do as I say, not as I do.” We want to teach only when we choose to and not all the time. That would be nice if were possible.

Often grand parents think that they have the best of all worlds. They visit and can elect to share whatever they like and they won’t be around to reap the results of their teaching. Speaking to inform, teaching, is something we all do all the time. We must become effective at it for the success of those around us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Part of communication is listening. We tend to think that if we can hear we are listening. Listening takes constant mental growth, fitness, sleep, good health and general awareness about the world around us. Nobody I know is really looking for more work and responsibility. Instead, what many of us want is less work and more fun, less responsibility and some sort of relaxing plateau.

The corollary that goes along with those wishes is that people and organizations will follow “our rules and expectations” in dealing with us and our community. That not only won’t happen it can’t happen. So the responsibility for our success falls on our shoulders. When we think, “They shouldn’t have done that,” “They had no right to say that,” we should be reminded that our success is our responsibility and it’s going to take our full attention.

We need to ask ourselves simple questions all the time which will aid us to put communication into our system with a real chance that we can succeed. Questions such as: 1) why are they talking to me? 2) why are they talking to me now? 3) why are they saying what they are? 4) what do they hope to accomplish? 5) who am I? 6) who do they think I am? 7) who are they? 8) who do they think they are, etc. These questions and others like them will help you to think about communications you are involved with. The review of communications in light of these questions will only take a second once you’ve become accustomed to thinking critically. But it will take practice getting there.

When you begin to practice these methods you will become increasingly able to use persuasive communications no matter what their origins. We all use persuasion in order to achieve even the simplest of goals. We constantly have others practicing their persuasive communication on us. It pays us to learn as much as possible about persuasion.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Methods of Presentational Communication

The biggest fear many of us have is public speaking, giving a speech, talking to a relatively large audience and so on. To avoid raising our fear levels we’ll call it presentational communication. There are four.

1) Impromptu

2) Manuscript

3) Memorized

4) Extemporaneous

Each one of these methods has strengths and weaknesses. I have arranged them this way to make a point. First, let’s look at impromptu speaking. Simply put, that speech is “off the cuff” and there has not be time to prepare. That means it is probably the most dangerous form of presentational communication. This method should b avoided at all costs.

To avoid impromptu presentational communications you must anticipate the occasions when they might be necessary. Anticipation includes briefly but clearly preparing the communication in advance and practice is important.

The last on the above list is extemporaneous. That is the method most audiences would prefer according to research. Look at your own experiences and decide which of the above four you would rather sit through. A more complete answer to the problems presented us by the impromptu method lies here with the extemporaneous method. In fact, the preparation of a short clear interesting extemporaneous communication is the answer to the problems presented by the impromptu communication.

So, if you want to win the friendship of another person and/or their families prepare extemporaneous communications to be delivered on demand. You already can predict most situations that will expect an impromptu speech. Things such as, “What are you planning to do with the education you’re getting at college?” The real question is “Are you just another bum or did our daughter find somebody worthwhile for a change?” A short, clear interesting answer will blow them away.

Hang in there.

Monday, November 12, 2007


There are always several ways to look at situations. Presentational communication is no exception. There is a way that might be described as the “ideal view.” In the ideal view you know how to organize anything and everything. You may have learned it in classes or you may have learned it by life exposure, but in any case you know all about organization. That doesn’t really fit most of us. Instead, we tend to learn as much as we need to in order to achieve our immediate goals. The problem with this method is that you don’t know all the goals you might have by the time you die.

Another way to look at organization is “apparent organization.” You ask yourself several questions that you will need to answer in order to reach your goals. For example:

1. What do they need to know?

2. Can that material be broken into several component parts?

3. What do they need to know first in order to understand other elements?

4. Have I explained this before and if so what made it successful?

The first element, “What do they need to know?” is basically the central idea that you should express in a simple declarative sentence. Since you probably will be using a computer, open and save a document to the desktop with a recognizable name based on the central idea. The more direct and easily understood your central idea the easier the communication will be.

Can that central idea be broken into several parts? Open your document on the desktop of your computer and list as many of those parts as you can think of. They must always support the central idea that is written across the top of the page. Later when you visit this page you may discover that one or more of these parts can be combined without doing any violence. We’re going to call these ideas that support the central idea, main ideas.

What things do they need to know and understand before they can be successful comprehending or taking action on the material being presented in the presentational communication? Can you arrange those things in some order that will enhance or make likely that those listening will understand what you’re talking about?

Your past experiences will be useful to you. What have you tried that seemed to work when it comes to ordering what needs to be presented first, second, third, etc.? Now you may have the answer to the question, “Which main idea should be first?”

This is apparent organization and all of us use it from time to time in life. Perhaps you recall what the ideal looks like.

Outline for a speech

Title of your speech


Date of presentation


A. Capture your audience’s attention with a quote, anecdote, or personal experience

B. Build up to your case or the main reason for your speech

C. Summarize the main idea of your speech. Quickly state your three main points

1. First Main Point

2. Second Main Point

3. Third Main Point

II.First Main Point: Working with outline numbered text in Microsoft Word

A. You can move an outline numbered item to the appropriate numbering level

1. On the Formatting toolbar:

a) To demote the item to a lower numbering level

(1) click a list number
(2) click Increase Indent.

b) To promote the item to a higher numbering level

(1) click a list number
This is part of the template library which is available to Microsoft Word users and it is useful to any of us who are trying to do a good job of presentational communication.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don’t Listen If Nothing Is Being Said

That almost says what we should do when people around us insist on saying nothing. A more accurate thought would be, don’t listen to the content only when a speaker appears to have nothing to say. Instead, listen with great care to what they choose to talk about and what they avoid talking about. You may learn more from that process than “listening” to the speech in the traditional sense.

Think back to that one time you came home way too late and you just knew that you were going to be grilled about what you were doing, with whom and where. You started to think of what you could say that might protect you from telling your parents what they really wanted to know. You hit on a plan.

Talk at length about things you know already that they have an interest in and invite them not only to listen but to participate. When the time for discussion has been used up, excuse yourself and head off to school. That way there never was a moment when your parents had the opportunity to talk to you about things you really didn’t want to discuss. OK, I’m the only one that ever did such a thing.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that in the political arena that is exactly what we are witnessing. There are two main points to this obfuscation.

1) Talk for no more than 30 to 60 seconds. During that time you should be able to say things that your audience will be able to use to build an “appropriate” context around.

2) Create fear about things that might or might not be done which will negatively impact the listener’s life. The listeners will again build a context around what is being said and may even vote that way.

What we are not seeing is free and open discussion/debate about the issues facing the world now. For example, would a list of key issues facing you in your everyday life look something like this?

1) Employment—am I going to get a job that will allow me to marry have children, educate them and retire?

2) Education—will the costs of education eventually deprive me or my children or grand-children from the education they need?

3) Health—will I be able to maintain my health and the health of my family thus assuring us of a long and happy life?

4) Environment—will the earth be substantially like it was when I was a child. Will it produce enough food, water and pure air to sustain the life I would prefer to live?

5) National posture—will nations around my country fear, hate or at least not come to the support of my nation as a result of things that my government does?

I would assume that your list would be different, but night very well include some of the issues my list does. It might even have a different order. But, most of the things we’re now hearing “discussed and debated” on the political stage in the United States includes almost nothing about those issues.

Listening to what is not being said and what is being said leads me to believe that most of the candidates are more interested in being elected than they are is making college more affordable and health care possible for my family not o mention jobs that I can work and while earning a living that might permit me to retire comfortably.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don’t Talk If You Have Nothing To Say

President Franklin D Roosevelt was a skilled communicator. When he spoke about communication it was usually important. For example: “Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say.” We all have heard speeches that seemed to go out of their way to actually avoid saying something. We almost always wished we hadn’t been present. I should be clear that we need to have something to say when we make a speech.

It is very likely that a bulk of us don’t volunteer to make a speech (public speaking/presentational speaking.) Instead, something that we have done or are doing catches someone’s attention and that leads to the speech. In your social circles it may have been noticed that you have been traveling and taking photos. Your associates decide that they would enjoy seeing the photos and listening to where you have been and what you’ve been doing. And so the pressure begins to prepare a presentation and deliver it to a group of friends and colleagues which will number around 28. Please note: it is always easier to say yes and then hope something happens and you never have to speak. But, with friends and colleagues that is probably not going to happen.

The next thing that is easy is to assume that you there is no need to prepare. And whatever preparation you do need won’t take very much time. Big mistake. With all communication you need to setup a procedure and then stick to it. If you’re talking to your boss, a fellow employee, your best friend, your spouse, your child and so on, you need to have a procedure that you follow so that you always have something to say. Remember, life is a process, and so is communication.

Setup the process immediately and begin work on what you are going to do and say. That way, no matter how much you fear the occasion you will know that you have something to say. In most cases, this thought or one like it will be useful: provide for your listeners what they need in order to appreciate and understand what you’re talking about. If you can have more concern about them than yourself, you will do better.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Freedom of Speech

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress reminded those listening of four freedoms he felt basic to humanity. The President of the United States began his speech with these words: “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.” Much has happened over the intervening 66 years, but the truth of those words remains. We say of life “Use it or lose it.” Certainly that applies to the freedom of speech. Mostly in the recent past we have taken that to mean that I can say anything I like because I have freedom of speech. That is true of course, but much more importantly, we have the reason to prepare ourselves to be able to use the freedom of speech to create a more perfect world. That implies a great deal.

We need to prepare ourselves to say things that will improve our lives and the lives of those around us. That means we will be aware of issues facing us all and having thought about those issues be prepared to speak to audiences of all sizes about those issues. The freedom of speech isn’t to protect those who prefer to jabber about nonsense alone, but also the those who are willing to take the risks necessary to point out basic needs facing us all.

In addition to making constant and intelligent use of the freedom of speech we need to defend vigorously the rights of others to the same freedom. That would mean we do not attempt to silence those who disagree with us. That would apply on the job, in board rooms and from the highest office in the land. Free and open discussion provides a wealth of information from many points of view to all of us.

When any group or nation follows this kind of process their freedoms are more likely to survive in the long run. It also will prod all organizations that we create or are part of to do the same thing. That will assure us of a more useful and effective media. By gathering and reporting on the intelligent and important discussions, addresses and forums going on around us all the time, the media increase the likelihood that even more of us will be aware of the content.

If all we are interested in is “bread and circuses” then we are repeating what the Roman poet Juvenal said was the basic problem facing the Roman Empire. It is for certain that we are busy, but it may not be as productive as we need. We have enough food and drink and maybe Juvenal's observation applies to us today. We have enough activities and food that we see no real need to protect our rights and our own future.