Month: February 2012

Book review: Say yes and benefit from this book

One of the major rules of improv comedy, of which Avish Parashar is an expert, is that whatever your colleagues throw at you, you should say yes to it and develop it. Saying no stops the action. It’s a little harder to see that “yes, but” is just a form of no, but in effect it is.

Say “Yes, And!”: 2 Little Words That Will Transform Your Career, Organization, and Life! lays out the contrast between “yes, but” and “yes, and,” and makes a quick case for the huge difference it makes in attitudinal and practical terms. It then proceeds to develop those insights in great depth and apply them to several areas of life.

An important idea for me out of this book is that we say “Yes, but” so much because it works, in the sense of getting some immediate result. We can miss the downside, though: it stops the scene, the action. It stops development. It stops progress. We say it because we’ve gotten some reinforcement from the immediate results, without ever seeing the long-term results that would have come from “yes, and.”

Plus, “yes, but” is safe. It doesn’t involve risk. On the other hand, “yes, and” is effective. Throughout the book, Avish shows how “yes, and” is more effective, especially in the long run, than “yes, but.”

Also throughout the book, Avish is careful to point out that he is advocating neither mindless agreement, nor becoming a pushover, nor even avoiding “yes, but” altogether. “Yes, and” is a mindset, not a rule. The idea isn’t to turn you into a clone of Jim Carrey in “Yes Man,” but simply to remember to be open. (And, I would add, it enables you to genuinely and warmly say no when you need to, without beating around the bush.)

Avish simply believes “and” is superior, and he suggests three considerations for saying “but.”

  1. Say “yes, but” later.
  2. Put the positive after the “but.” (Managers are told to start with something positive, mention whatever criticism they have, and then finish with something positive, often called the “criticism sandwich.” Research tends to show it doesn’t work very well. ( What does work, according to Clifford Nass, the Thomas M. Storke Professor at Stanford University, is starting with the negatives, followed by a long list of positives–sort of a criticism deep-dish pizza. Parashar’s principle here, fits that bit of advice.)
  3. Use “but” to come up with alternatives–really another way of saying “yes, and.”

In developing his thesis, Avish hits on a topic that is close to my heart: communication. He says good communication is at the heart of success (I would agree), and says, “‘Yes, And’ is the simple tool you can use to increase the quality of your communication and make it as effective as possible.”

I definitely recommend reading this book more than once. Its deceptively simple approach has many nuggets of practical wisdom that you can mine over several readings.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book. That doesn’t matter. I calls ’em like I sees ’em, and would say so if I didn’t like it.

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Infographic: The Pitfalls of Freelancing

Infographics have become a trend–at least partly, I think, because they’re information-dense means of quickly making sense of a topic, and effectively combine visual and verbal information. This one applies to both writing and speaking, I think, as well as the obvious connections to IT.

Pitfalls of Freelancing
Created by: Masters Degree

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Shoot down slideware bullet points

NASA's bad slide

No wonder no one could figure out what happened

As of this writing, it has been 24 years since 1988 (man, you don’t know how old that makes me feel). You would think that would be enough time for us to figure out that filling slides with text doesn’t work.

Why 1988? That’s the year John Sweller formulated Cognitive Load Theory, a theory about how we learn things. It’s related to the work of Princeton’s George A. Miller in 1956 that suggests we can only retain around seven discrete items in short-term memory. Though CLT has a number of implications for learning, we’re concerned here with the insight that when we are presented with both a written and an “out loud” version of the same information, we ignore one or the other. In other words, we can’t listen and read at the same time. Continue reading

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Questioning the Q&A placement

Question mark made of puzzle piecesStudents instinctively duck the question-and-answer phase of a speech altogether, or else place it as an afterthought after the speech is over. Professionals sometimes wind up a great speech with a querulous, “Are there any questions?” John Zimmer has wisely advised that you leave out a couple of common closing slides, one of which is tied to the Q&A. Comments at the end of that article reminded me of my own practice, and the one I advise students to follow: never let the Q&A be the last thing your audience hears. Come back with a planned conclusion after the Q&A.

Two bad things can happen if you try to end with Q&A.

  1. They have no questions. Uncomfortable silence follows. Crickets chirp. The speaker tries to console himself (male pronoun used since “himself” refers to me in an earlier incarnation) that he must have covered all the bases, while actually believing he made so little impact as to leave the audience with no curiosity about the topic. Audience members will probably assume the lack of interest. In other words, a lack of questions can just suck all the energy out of what otherwise might have been a dynamic speech.Plus, it can leave you running short of audience expectations regarding the length of the speech. Although it has been said that no speaker has ever gotten in trouble for going undertime, that isn’t completely true. Audiences that have paid for an hour mini-seminar can feel cheated if they only get 40 minutes.
  2. Someone has a combative question. Rather than ending on the strong note in the conclusion, the speaker winds up defending his contentions. Addressing objections is essential–but any sales professional will tell you that you don’t end there.

Instead, plan a Q&A after your last main body point, but before your conclusion. Deal with whatever questions come up, or the lack thereof with a plan B, a planted question, or introducing your own questions. Then end with your call to action.

Sometimes speech texts will say the parts of the speech with the most impact are the introduction and the conclusion. If you structure it properly, that is true. The most accurate way to put it, though, is that the greatest impact comes from the first thing the audience hears from you and the last thing. Make sure the last thing they hear is something you want them to remember.

Update: There’s a third bad thing that can happen–you get good questions, that you could have used in your conclusion if you had known about them! Answer: if you get good questions, use them by referring to them in the strong conclusion you craft.

Dr. Michelle Mazur has a good article along similar lines at How to Ruin a Presentation in the Last 30 Seconds. Check it out!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Question mark, by Horia Varlan

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Setting matters

Monean Christmas Party 2011A conversation I had recently reminded me of the importance of the setting in which a speech takes place, and why a speaker should exercise whatever control s/he has to get the physical setting right.

Over the 20 years I have been at my college, there have been three “eras” of teaching at a particular branch campus. The first was soon after I came to the college, over 15 years ago. The branch campus at the time was housed in a former elementary school. Though it had been upgraded for use by adult learners and had the generous support of the community, it still “felt” like an elementary school. That, coupled with the fact that most of the students had gone to high school together, gave classes there a particular challenge.

One class in particular illustrates the challenge. They treated classes (or at least my class) as if it were grade 13–cutting up in class, passing notes, even bullying the same kids who had been bullied in high school. One miscreant even put on a rubber Halloween mask while I was lecturing. I have no patience for people who have no investment in their own learning, and refused to teach at that campus again for a long time. I actually drove right by that campus to get to the college’s main campus 20 miles further away.

The second era began about 5 years ago, when for a number of reasons I needed to get classes closer to home. In the intervening decade, with changes to the job market and a generational shift, students were more serious and I was more skilled in classroom management. There were fewer miscreants, and those few didn’t last long in my classes. We still had the elementary school “feel” to contend with, though.

The effect became obvious during the third (and current) era, when we had the tremendous boost of moving to a new campus. This one, too, had tremendous community support, but the major difference was that it was built with the intention of using it for college classes.

I don’t think my skills increased much from one year to the next, and I don’t think the population changed that much, but in the new building everything seems different. Students are more serious, more focused on their own learning, and I don’t have to work at classroom management so much. In fact, the classes feel the way I believe a college class should: we’re all adults working together to help students achieve their goals.

I would like to think it’s because I’m so good, but I really think the surroundings have made the difference–it fosters the mindset that lets that level of learning take place.

Speaker can exercise only so much control over the physical environment. That makes it even more important that you exercise the control you do have. Much of this is just common sense–show up well ahead of speaking time and check to make sure the setting works. In a future post, we’ll consider some of the specific items to control, if you can.

Image credit: Creative Commons License photo credit: ShardsOfBlue

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Introverted speakers: don’t divert from networking

Creative Commons License photo credit: she always was the softest thing

Lisa Petrelli understands building on the strengths of introversion, and she also understands networking. She used her own introversion as the foundation for a successful run to the CEO’s chair and authored The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership. Rather than viewing introversion as a barrier to networking, she found ways to leverage it.

She gives good advice in An Introvert’s Guide to Networking, and I want to give a little tweak to that advice for speakers. Continue reading

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