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As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick Hardcover – July 26, 2011
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About the Author
Peter Meyers is the founder of Stand & Deliver Consulting Group. An acclaimed actor and theater director, he currently teaches performance and leadership skills at Stanford University, Esalen Institute, and IMD-International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is based in San Francisco.
Shann Nix is an award-winning journalist, novelist, playwright, and radio talk show host. She lives in Wales.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
YOU’RE WAITING IN the dark, about to go onstage to give your big presentation. Your palms are wet. You’re pacing back and forth, thumbing through your notecards. You should have numbered them. You dropped them coming up the stairs, and now they’re completely out of order. What does the first slide say? You can’t remember. You should have stayed up longer last night. You should have spent more time preparing. Did you choose the right tie? Is the knot straight? You check it again. The suit that looked fine this morning suddenly feels crumpled and too tight.
Your face feels red and hot. What if you forget what you’re going to say? What if they don’t like you? What if they ask you tough questions? What if they find out that you’re not as smart as they think you are? There are people in that audience who know more about this topic than you do, you’re sure of it . . .
You peek out from behind the heavy red velvet curtain again. There are still people coming in and finding their seats. The people who are seated look bored already, and you haven’t said a word yet. You spot your boss in the second row, looking worried. He’s got high hopes for you. Just this morning, he told you how much is riding on this presentation. Sitting next to your boss is Brad—the guy in the office who’s after your job. Brad is leaning back in his chair, arms folded, smirking. He’s got a clipboard and a red pen on his lap, ready to take notes and find the holes in your data. He’s looking forward to this, you can tell.
You can see nearly all of your colleagues in the audience. If only it were just a customer meeting, where the worst that could happen was that you would lose the account. But these people know you. You will have to face them tomorrow in the elevator, and every morning after that. Whatever you say out there on that stage, you will have to live with for the next few years. It will be talked about, written about, gossiped about. They’re already looking at their watches, pulling out their smartphones, poised to text and tweet the results of your efforts around the globe before you leave the stage.
You can feel your heart thumping against your ribs. All you can do is pray that your boss won’t recognize the look of terror on your face. You can feel the sweat on your upper lip, and you wipe it off. You notice that your hands are trembling. You shove them in your pockets, then pull them out again.
A sympathetic gray-haired lady introduces you. There is a smattering of applause. You raise your chin, take a deep breath, and walk out onstage. The bright lights hit you like a wall. As you look into the audience, you can feel five hundred sets of eyeballs staring at you. Everything feels surreal, as if you’re in a dream. Every nerve in your body is screaming at you to run. Your legs are moving on their own, like some macabre dance step. Why are you here? Why did you ever agree to this? Your hands, despite your best intentions, seem to have wound up in your pockets again. With an effort you pull them out, and grab the podium with white knuckles. Your mouth has gone dry, and you notice, too late, that there is no water glass at the podium. You quickly check the computer screen, and then look up. Your brain is completely blank. You cannot remember your name, much less the first line of your presentation. The silent seconds stretch out like hours. The people in the front row are watching you with an expression that you realize, after a moment, is pity.
Does this sound like your worst nightmare? If you’re terrified by the thought of standing up and speaking in front of a group of people, you’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is that as human beings, we are hardwired to fail in a situation like this.
Why is that? Well, it’s because of two tiny, almond-shaped structures in your brain called the amygdalae. Lodged in the oldest part of the brain, the amygdalae have only one job, and it’s not to think—it’s to keep you alive. The amygdalae never sleep; they are part of an early-warning system that constantly scans for danger and sends an alert to your body anytime you’re under threat. And at the moment, standing on that stage, your DNA tells you that you are in serious trouble. Your mammalian brain, sharpened by millions of years of evolution, knows exactly what it means to feel hundreds of eyes staring at you from out of the darkness. It means you’re about to be lunch.
Your amygdalae swing into action. They wrest control away from your evolved higher brain, and pass it back to the primitive part of your brain that specializes in survival. The adrenal glands, sitting just over your kidneys, start to pump adrenaline into your system. You breathe more rapidly, oxygenating the blood. Your heartbeat speeds up, preparing you for exertion. You start to sweat, becoming slippery and harder to grab. Your vision sharpens in preparation for battle or escape. Blood flow is redirected toward the large muscle groups in your arms and legs, to help you fight or run. All noncritical functions shut down. Blood is robbed from any organ not immediately necessary for survival.
Unfortunately for you right now, one of these nonessentials is your frontal cortex, where language is processed. The words of your carefully prepared presentation leave your head as the blood drains away from your forebrain. You blank your opening. You feel stupid because, at that moment, your IQ has actually dropped. You are in the middle of what is called an amygdala hijack.
Being smart, successful, beautiful, or talented doesn’t protect you from falling prey to an amygdala hijack. In fact, lots of Fortune 500 CEOs, global leaders, diplomats, ambassadors, and political candidates experience the same problem. And when they do, many of them call us.
Who are we? We’re two people who come from the front lines of high-performance communication. Peter Meyers is the founder and director of Stand & Deliver, a company that travels the world to coach CEOs and top executives in the United States, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, Latin America, and the Middle East. Shann Nix is an award-winning journalist, novelist, playwright, and former radio talk show host on a number one–rated radio station, speaking to nearly one million listeners a night. Together we have a combined fifty years of experience working in theater, radio, film, television, fiction, and journalism.
And what do we do? Well, when a leader steps into the spotlight, all eyes are on him. Whether it’s the president of the United States or the president of the local library fund, the expectations when he opens his mouth are daunting. He’s supposed to automatically exhibit certain qualities of insight, clarity, and confidence.
The problem is that being smart doesn’t necessarily make someone a good communicator. In fact, the tragedy of many smart people is that their ability to think exceeds their ability to speak. And that’s where we come in.
We are often called into a high-stakes situation twenty-four or forty-eight hours before the event, to avert a potential communication crisis. We’ve coached leaders in greenrooms just before they step out onstage, and rewritten speeches through the night before the morning of the presentation. We develop the language and content, put them on their feet, rehearse them, and give them the tools they need to rise to the occasion.
Sometimes we come in when the leaders of an organization need to win the hearts and minds of their people, to influence a team to step up to a new challenge or align disparate groups so that they’re working more collaboratively.
We are often asked to work with a high-level executive who is intelligent and experienced, but who is undermining her own authority with old habits. We help her translate her ideas into action, and to speak with a level of authority and confidence so that she will finally get the attention she deserves. We might coach the senior vice president who is brilliant at his job, but falls apart when asked to report to the board. We help speakers provide clarity where there is confusion, credibility where there is doubt, and excitement where there is monotony.
We’re brought in to make sure that the thinking gets the expression it deserves: that the quality of the ideas is matched by the vitality of the speaker’s presence. We work with smart midlevel people who are getting passed over because they are unable to speak up. We help people who want to communicate better in meetings, who are asking questions like: “How do I jump in?” “How do I fight against the extroverts?” “How do I hold my own in the room if I’m more of a reflective thinker, or a numbers guy?” We’re often called in to work with financial or analytical people who need to know how to translate data into memorable, compelling narratives. Often we are asked to work with CEOs who are intelligent but emotionally cold, struggling to connect with their people.
People generally call us for one of two reasons. Either they’ve already had some success in communication and, having had a taste of it, want more; or they’ve had a painful experience like the one we described in the opening, and don’t ever want to suffer like that again. A lot of the people who call us are “getting through” their presentations, but the process of preparation is filled with dread. They want to stop the panic, and start to enjoy the process and get better results. There are a lot of people out there who are already pretty good communicators. But in the words of Jim Collins, “good is the enemy of great.” We work with people who are committed to raising their standards.
If you’re reading this book, congratulations. You’ve clearly understood that if you want to get...
Top customer reviews
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Here in a single volume is just about all you need to know about high-impact communication, especially after checking out the Heaths' book and reviewing the Six Principles that all sticky ideas demonstrate. (Please see Pages 16-18.) They are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. Meyers and Nix have decades of experience helping people whose ability to think exceeds their ability to express themselves. "We develop the language and content, put them on their feet, rehearse them, and give them the tools they need to rise to the occasion." However, and it is impossible for me to exaggerate the importance of one point: this book offers more - FAR MORE - than "how to do it" advice for public speaking.
They carefully organize their material within five Parts: Content, Delivery, State (i.e. presence), High-Stakes Situations, and Finding Your [own] Voice and Making It Heard. They are determined to help each reader's thinking gets the expression it deserves, "that the quality of the ideas is matched by the vitality of the [reader's] presence. The potential applications of what Meyers and Nix hare are almost unlimited because there are so many opportunities to achieve high-impact communication. The audience could be a single person or members of a governing board or several thousand people. The same principles apply: outstanding content + compelling delivery = high impact. As Warren Beatty suggests, "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
After explaining in the first chapter how to ensure that a speech is outcome-focused, relevant, and on point, Meyers and Nix note that when taking the next step, "you can't just start slapping bricks together. First, you need to know where they go. You need a design. So now it's time to put together the architecture of ideas."
The architecture consists of three parts: Ramp (the beginning), Discovery (the middle), and Dessert (the end).
Meyers and Nix suggest three "Master Tips":
o Get the I/You ratio right: Use ten "You's" for every "I."'
o You have only seven seconds at the beginning in which the audience decides whether or not they're going to pay attention.'
o Don't bury the lead. If you don't hook them right up front, you've lost them forever. There are no second chances.
Here are the opening strategies they recommend:
1. Open with the word "You"'
2. Use a powerful statistic (i.e. a "sexy number")'
3. Ask an intriguing question.'
4. Shock them.'
5. Make a confession.'
6. Use the word "imagine" to serve as an invitation.
7. Tell an historical anecdote that is relevant to your key point.'
8. Tell a story: setting, characters, conflicts, tension, key developments, resolution, etc.
This book is a "must read" for those who want to develop the mindset and the skills to communicate with high impact, whatever the circumstances may be. That assumes, of course, that the content is of a very high quality and appropriate for the given audience. Hence the importance of rigorous preparation. I agree with Peter Meyers and Shann Nix: Ultimately, "It's not about you. It's all about them."
I think this book combined with tons of practice in front of people will help many people out. Also, read the HBR article by Chris Anderson and Nancy Duarte called "How to give a killer presentation". http://bit.ly/11V37Ym
As We Speak gives readers a simple yet powerful way to understand the secrets to great communication. I know I will turn to this book again and again when I work with my clients - and I will recommend it to each of them.
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The authors were able to offer very concrete information
simultaneously, speaking in a very human and thoughtful...Read more