Monday, January 31, 2011

Violent Speech

Should we indulge our feelings and use "violent speech" or are there real risks attached to what we say in general. The recent shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 6 others who were shot dead in Tucson, Arizona has raised the debate yet again about "free speech" and "independent acts" of violence.

If you would take the time to read a statement made during a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Wis., October, 14, 1912, you can see what Colonal Theodore Roosevelt felt was the cause of his misery. From the beginning of this speech you will realize that Roosevelt was remarkable. The things he said were not merely a reaction to being shot in the chest, but well thought out. He said, "Now, I do not know who he was or what he represented. He was a coward. He stood in the darkness in the crowd around the automobile and when they cheered me, and I got up to bow, he stepped forward and shot me in the darkness."

Then Roosevelt added, "Now, friends, of course, I do not know, as I say, anything about him; but it is a very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers in the interest of not only Mr. Debs but of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Taft."

There is much discussion still about "free speech" and our rights to say things because we believe that they are true. But, because we live in a world that has a wide variety of us living in it, perhaps we should take more time to consider the possible outcomes of what we advocate. Stirring the pot may very well produce far more than we had anticipated.

In addition, when we think violent thoughts, a bulk of the time we have enough control to avoid acting on those thoughts. But, I think it is only reasonable to examine ourselves and what has caused us to even think those violent thoughts in the first place. I certainly isn't our job to set free ideas that "we hope" will catch fire in some other person's mind so that the outcome is what we hoped and we don't find ourselves punished. Free expression is better used to solve the problems we face in the least harmful way possible.

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, through his character Mark Antony he demonstrates what words can do deliberately, while appearing to do something quite different. Being clever is difficult, but being clever while doing no harm may be far more difficult.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where To Begin

Introductions are important. That's where we should begin. Think about the challenges that face you. In the first few seconds you and I decide whether to listen or escape into our own private world. What can the person trying to gain and hold your attention do that? Here are some questions that will help.

1. Who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What do I know and how prepared for this communication am I?

2. Who do they think I am?
What do they already know about me and my topic? How much knowledge do I have and how important is it to them to listen?

3. The plan:
how do I frame the context for the communication? Why would they want to know what I know and am about to share? How can I tie my topic to their interests? What things are most people interested in and want to know more about?

4. How can tie the important points I'm about to share in the shortest possible time? Should I use statistics, examples, photos, short stories or something more personal such as, popularity, jobs, money?

5. Have I spelled out in words just what my plan is to move the audience from a room full of separate individuals into a cohesive group of people who want you to "tell them" what you know so they can know it too.

All of us would be more effective if we followed the ideas listed above. Think before you speak is valuable advice for all occasions. A few moments here can spare us all several moments of embarrassment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thoughts On Togetherness

We appear to be living in an age where "standing for something" is even more important than getting along with those around us. In fact, it is so important that we may not even allow ourselves to consider "their ideas" because we already know that "they are wrong."

There are some real risks in taking that position. One obvious on is the very real possibility that we are wrong. Another is that we spend our establishing the "fact" that we are right and the other is "wrong" that we never spend any time on the problem at hand.

Coming from a completely different position in the universe is this YouTube presentation that indicates that no matter how much of an individual you are, there maybe some real advantages in working together as a group. And of course that involves some important understandings of human communication.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Delivery Check List (Revisited)

1) Have I properly prepared for this presentation? Have I analyzed the audience? Do I know the location of the presentation? Do I have the proper presentation equipment? Do I have material related to both the topic and the audience allowing them to value what I'm going to share with them?

2) Who do they think I am? Do they know me, if not what will I provide for them about me?

3) What can I say non-verbally that will provide them context? How do they think I should dress? What language and demeanor do they expect? What appearance will be most effective?

4) Can they hear and see me easily? Is a public address system needed? Is the lighting ideal?

5) How can I use my presentational aids, voice and body to guide them through my presentation? Should I have a computer driven presentation? How can I use my voice to emphasize and direct attention?

6) Do I seem to be enthusiastic and informed about my presentation?

7) Would I notice if some in the audience couldn't hear, see or understand what is being presented?

8) What questions, if any were asked during and after the presentation? How will these questions affect my next presentation? Did they understand my content? Are they considering changing their position?

9) Did I need leave behind materials? How will they be distributed? How many will be needed? Do the materials have appropriate contact information?

(This first appeared in May, 2010.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Informative Speech

Here's an example of what at least one student did with the assignment: Informative Speech. Take a look and listen to what the student elected to do and how they did it. It isn't an example of the perfect speech, but rather how someone with an assignment solved the problem. Remember that every person and all audiences are unique. That doesn't address the assignment. Just view and see what ideas you might be able to use when you are completing your assignment.

Give This A Weeklong Trial

Get rested, resolve as many of your personal conflicts as possible, resolve not to correct the people around you in any way and then set out to learn what makes those you come in contact with think the way they do. This is a tough assignment. You'll be tempted to think/say, "in light of this, how can you possibly believe that?" Instead, do the hard thing: listen and learn.

You'll not understand things and be forced to ask questions. Do your best to keep them as neutral (non-judgmental) as possible. For example: "By that do you mean. . .?" Or "When you say good, how might you say that in another way?" See the world from their point of view if possible. Your opinion about their position probably won't change anything anyway, so keep it to yourself. At best, they might allow you to have "your own opinion," but not agree with it. At worst, once you have expressed yourself they might write you and your ideas off. Now how will you be able to relate to them?

After you've done this for a week, re-examine yourself and your positions. They will probably be intact. On the other hand, you may have, for the first time ever, found some areas of agreement with the other person and better understand how you can successfully communicate with them. It would be a great aid if you would also attempt to travel with them, doing the things that they do. If not with them, doing what they do in an attempt to better understand.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Here's The Situation

The genes from our parents are united in our creation. Those genes are arranged in a way that is unique to us. That creates a person whose abilities physical and mental are bound to be different from all others. This presents us with a dilemma. In spite of the fact that we are similar to others in many ways, we are also different from others. Without a long term detailed, and time consuming inventory, we have no real idea of where the similarities and differences are.

This make it difficult to safely use phrases such as: "I know what you mean." When we say, "This really tastes good and you'll love it," we have made a high risk statement. And added to this problem is the fact that we build our own world through contact with things outside our skins. Those worlds are different.

Now think how difficult the task is to communicate with those around us, especially those we would like to be close to or work with/for. In order to build communities we gather in groups and hammer out ideas such as democracy or free speech. Those ideas have no real referent in the physical world. That makes them abstract. Abstracts, since they have no reference that can be touched, smelled or measured thus proving their existence, must be thoroughly examined, discussed and tested by most, if not all the community, in order to make it work.

Making the whole situation even more difficult is the fact that we all change over time. The changes, due to the new and different experiences that impact us, cause us to view the familiar in new and different ways. These changes over time makes it increasingly important that we never think that we have "finally settled that matter once and for all." Not unlike the student that says, "When I've finished this degree program I'm finished with school."

The whole area of human communication merits our complete and continuing attention. It is and should be one of the most consuming activities we attempt. The next time someone one, anyone, suggests that communication is simple, you are in the presence of someone doesn't understand communication.