• “How stupid are our leaders?”
  • “How stupid are they?”
  • “I’m really rich”
  • “Politicians are all talk, no action”
  • “huge,” “terrible,” “beautiful.”

Any guesses which political leader made these statements?

“he prefers simple language” Jon Favreau, Obama speechwriter

How Donald Trump Speaks

Donald Trump dominates a specific type of rhetoric. His speaking is radically different to every other political candidate in the USA.

21language_graphic_web-1547In the graphic to the left, researchers passed the speeches of all the US political candidates through the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, an analysis that tells us what level of school you need to understand the speaker.

Bernie Sanders speaks at a high school level.

Hilary speaks at junior high level.

Where’s Donald?

Donald Trump speaks at a 4th grade level.  He speaks directly and simply.

Read the full review of the Flesch-Kincaid analysis over at the Boston Globe: For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates: Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level

 

Speak in simple words

What does Donald do?  There are 3 key things:  Simplicity, Dialogue, Repetition

  1. His language is Simple – Short sentences.  “Look at Paris”.  75% of his words are single syllable words.
  2. He uses Dialogue – “lots of people” call me and tell me “thank you Donald, you said what needs to be said”  “They say Trump has a point”
  3. He uses Repetition – “Make America Great Again”, “Problem, problem, problem”.  The power of repetition is that we start to believe something is true if we hear it repeated enough time.

Focus on The Audience

What allows him to do this is that he is always speaking about the audience’s problems.  He never talks about how difficult it can be, he never goes into details about how…  he brings it back time and time again to “Problems, problems, problems.”

Donald Trump follows in a long line of US Presidents that radically altered the nature of effective political communication.  Abraham Lincoln made the radical communication step of using newspapers to share his message.  Dwight D Eisenhower made the radical communication step of using radio to speak directly to people in their homes, in his fireside chats.  JFK used television more powerfully than any other politician.

How Donald Trump Answers a Question

The Nerdwriter episode on “How Donald Trump Answers a Question” is a brilliant analysis of one specific answer that Trump gave to Jimmy Kimmel.  If you are reading this via email, check out the video here: How Donald Trump Answers A Question

How Simple can we Go?

“A leaders’ job isn’t to educate the public — it’s to inspire and persuade them, That requires meeting people where they are, and speaking in words that are easily accessible to the broadest possible audience. Perhaps the most powerful, inspirational political phrase of the last decade or so involved three of the simplest words in the English language: yes we can.’’Jon Favreau, Obama’s speechwriter

“At some point enough is enough, If you continue drawing these lines, you’re going to hit comic strip levels. . . . There are real costs to oversimplification.” Elvin T. Lim, professor at Wesleyan University

and… to finish…  why Donald tweets

If you are reading this via email, check out the video here: How and Why Donald Trump Tweets

 

 

 

Toastmasters is a wonderful organisation for anybody who wishes to improve their ability to speak with impact.

However, there is something that has often challenged me with the “best” toastmaster speeches. They are very clearly the work of someone who has worked very, very, very hard on the words, gestures and voice that they use to deliver the speech. The “best” toastmaster speeches verge on the theatric and sometimes leave behind a sense of a natural conversation.  Toastmasters evaluations can focus on bringing attention to symbols of hard work on the art of public speaking – big gestures, long pauses, wide ranges of volume, tone and pace in voice.

I am reading Sims Wyeth‘s book “The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking” at the moment.  One of his sections is called “Hide the Art”.  It speaks about the need to hide your brilliance as a speaker.

Hide the Art

Why hide the art?  Why would you want to go to the effort to hide the work you have done on being a great speaker?

Sims refers to a number of great political orators of the Athenian state.  They knew that if the people saw them as relaxed and natural, they would be more open to listen to their ideas.  If the people saw how much they worked on their ability to speak, the people would be worried about being manipulated by them.

It is a paradox – being visibly “too good” makes you less likely to connect and persuade.

Hiding the art does not mean that you intentionally are a poor speaker.  It means what Bruce Lee refers to as Natural Un-Naturalness (see final paragraphs of post).

“The natural instinct and control need to be combined in harmony – one to the extreme you become very unscientific, the other you become a mechanical man… no longer a human being – the ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness… yin yang” Bruce Lee

The swan swims gracefully over the water of the pond – only the fish see how hard her little feet are paddling beneath the surface.  This is the art of great speaking.  The art is to go through theatrical and get back to looking authentic, human and natural.

Moving people to action requires that you go beyond the level of preparation that allows you to deliver an excellent performance and arrive at an ability to hold a peer-to-peer conversation with the audience.

The path to Natural must pass through Contrived

The path to natural unnaturalness must pass through “contrived unnaturalness” – you have to do the work to move through discomfort and expansion of your natural range as a speaker – and Toastmasters is the absolute best path.  However, taking your message beyond toastmasters requires integrating the gestures, voice, words back into yourself so that the audience feels like you have not worked so hard.  This way they trust the person and listen to the message, rather than are impressed by the person, but distrustful of the message.

Great artists mastered the basics over many, many years before they found the path back to what we might call “authentic” or natural.

The Visionary Leader

In times of crisis, we prefer Visionary Leaders. Hope is a strong motivator to current action when the situation is difficult.

In the years leading up to 2008, the USA was stuck in two protracted wars, and an economic crisis sparked by the subprime lending collapse. In this context of uncertainty, the big factor that helped to sweep Barrack Obama into the Presidency was that he was seen as an inspiring and visionary leader. His message gave hope for a better future to come.

The Ethos-Based Speech model uses the force of the leader’s personal and professional credibility combined with hope to move an audience to take action. It is a vital tool for effective leaders when facing times of uncertainty and crisis.

Likewise, Ronald Reagan came to power in a time of uncertainty.  He was a powerful visionary speaker.  His speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster was a very clear Ethos-Based speech structure and delivery.

Example Ethos-Based Speech: Ronald Reagan’s Challenger address

The Ethos-Based Speech

The Ethos-Based Speech follows this simple structure:

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 17.51.46

Past

Starts with a moment in time “4 years ago” or “When we founded this company” or “70 years ago”. Past describes a situation where things were “good”. Past sets a common context. Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster begins with a story about what happened 400 years ago – the founding of the USA. This creates a common context and connection for his audience.

Present

Describes today’s reality. Often this is a negative in contrast with the Past. There are challenges. Not everything is rosy. However, the audience needs to see that the leader lives in their world, sees what they see. This clear seeing of today’s real situation establishes credibility. Ronald Reagan’s Challenger speech tells of what he and his wife Nancy saw on TV that morning, how they felt and what it meant. He then speaks to the children, then to the teachers, then to the families of the dead astronauts. He is direct and clear about the real situation and the feelings.

Future

Imagines a better situation in future. “5 years from now, I see a company that is strong…” Outlines what the hard work we need to day will achieve. Connects todays difficulty with a purpose.

I made a short video last week to explain some of the advanced modules we run in IESE for Persuasive Communication skills.

This video explains the IESE Visionary Communication Module

Original Post

Diapositiva14

The Webinar:

This is the recording of the IESE Develop Your Communication Skills webinar we ran on 13th April 2013.  It is here on the IESE Business School YouTube channel.

Storify Summary of the Webinar via Twitter Hashtag: #iesewebinar

Resources cited in the Webinar:

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Pablo Picasso

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Teaching in IESE Madrid

I finished a wonderful 3 day seminar this week in Madrid with 30 directors ranging from industries as diverse as agriculture, to mobile handset makers, to pharmaceuticals to drinks. The course began on Tuesday morning at 9am as the participants introduced themselves, their challenges and their objectives for the course.

I listened and what struck me is how they were able to say so little in so many words. The spanish do have a tendency to start their mouth talking, and then engage their brain. They are not alone in this tendency. The world over, un-practiced communicators speak a lot of noise before they find the meaning.

Eliminate the Unnecessary

It is not only art that benefits from the elimination of the unnecessary. Those that speak powerfully say what they need to say and no more. Their is little filler in their communication. Their voices use no ehem, ahh, hmm, uhh noises.

Great poets cram massive meaning in few words. It takes more work to say it well in 10 seconds than in 30, more work to say it well in 3 minutes than in 10 minutes, more work to say it well in 10 minutes than in 3 hours. I don’t want to be lazy in my meaning. If I can say it in 30 seconds then I want to say it in 30 seconds. I have been working on videos in my youtube channel – working to squeeze 20 minute sections of my course into 2 minute videos. If I can say it well in 2 minutes, I know that I can say it powerfully in 20.

At the end of the course, the participants again shared their experiences with the group. It was a great source of pride to me as I saw the efficiency with which they used words. They spoke powerfully, they spoke with emotion, they spoke using silence when silence was more powerful than any word, and they spoke from the heart.

It takes a lot of complex thinking to achieve simple speaking. It takes many hours of reflection alone with oneself to understand our emotions, and the stories that generate our meaning in relation to what happens to us. Great communication is a mirror of the inner state. If my inner state is confused, my confusion will shine through my speech. If my inner state is self-doubt, my self-doubt will shine through my speech. If my inner state is tired, apathetic and unloved, my apathy will shine through.

Learning to communicate well can not be achieve merely through an outward journey, a learning of tools. There is a need for an inner journey, to understand myself. Few achieve success as actors. The rest of us need to real feel passion inside to project passion to an audience. We can’t fake it for very long.

I wrote “Give a TED talk” on my bucket list 4 years ago, today I feel happy to see the idea come to fruition. It is not a TED Talk per-se, i.e. it is not up there on a stage, but in my mind almost better – a lesson from my class, and a concept that is very important today. We are increasingly overloaded with information, but need to be more and more careful how we trust this information. We want to connect to the meaning behind the information. As the lesson says “Ethos and Pathos are missing”…

What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about Persuasion

Imagine you are one of the world’s greatest violin players, and you decide to conduct an experiment: play inside a subway station and see if anyone stops to appreciate when you are stripped of a concert hall and name recognition. Joshua Bell did this, and Conor Neill channels Aristotle to understand why the context mattered.

Lesson by Conor Neill, animation by Animationhaus.

View the full lesson, additional resources and the quick quiz on the TED Education website: here

Joshua Bell on violin

Joshua Bell, “Poet of the Violin”

Often referred to as the “poet of the violin,” Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty, and charismatic stage presence.

Aristotle

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher ofAlexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics,government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics,logic, science, politics, and metaphysics.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The English title varies: typically it is titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.

The Words, the Meaning, the Effect

JL Austin’s short book

As we communicate, there are 3 separate processes at play:

  1. what we say,
  2. what we mean when we say it, and
  3. what we accomplish by saying it

A rhetorician would call these 3 separate processes: 1) locution, 2) illocution, and 3) perlocution.  In my courses we use the shorthand “Point X” to refer to the perlocutionary effect.  This is where effective persuasive communication must begin.


Speech Act theory was laid out by the philosopher J. L. Austin in his small book “How to do things with Words”.

Words that Change the World

One difference between gods and men is that a god’s words directly change the world, whereas the words of men depend on action of others to cause the change.  A god might say “let there be light”, and the sun appears.  A man might say “can you turn on the light?” and another person hears, understands and reaches his hand out to the switch.

However, we do have occasions and rituals in which a man’s words do cause a change in the world.  These occasions the speech is called “performative”.  Consider the following statements:

1a) Conor says, “James and Sarah are married.”
1b) A judge says, “James and Sarah, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

2a) Conor says, “That ball was on the line!”
2b) The umpire says, “Point to Rafa Nadal.  Game.”

The a) statements communicate information.  These are non-performative utterances.  The b) statements directly change the state of the world.  The statements of the judge or the umpire are performative utterances.

Performative utterances are not limited to judges, umpires and gods.  Consider:

3a) Conor says, “I would bet on New Zealand to beat England”
3b) Conor says, “I bet you €10 that New Zealand beat England today”

This third examples show the establishment of an verbal contract.  Legal codes in many nations hold these verbal contracts as valid on a par with written contracts.  Performative Speech acts include promising, ordering, greeting, warning, inviting and congratulating.

Types of Meaning

John Searle gives the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:

  • assertives = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g. reciting a creed
  • directives = speech acts that are to cause the hearer to take a particular action, e.g. requests, commands and advice
  • commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g. promises and oaths
  • expressives = speech acts that express the speaker’s attitudes and emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations, excuses and thanks
  • declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife

Political Speaking

Politicians often speak in a manner that treads a fine line between performative and non-performative speech.  They make statements that sound like assertive promises, but if you listen exactly to the words, they avoid the full commitment.  We hear the promise, but if later their statement is fact-checked, it can slide by as a non-performative.

This has led to a great distrust in any sort of vague speaking.  If you mean to make a promise, it is important in today’s environment to state it in clear and non-ambiguous terms.

Remove “maybe”, “try” and “might” from your vocabulary.  They turn a performative utterance into a vague, grey mush.

For your words to change the world, be concise and direct with your performative statements.

SoundCloud

Mythology and The Human Experience

As part of the Greek and Roman Mythology course that I have been following for the last 10 weeks, our teacher Dr. Peter Struck has been drawing out a number of “universal human laws” from the myths.

We read of Odysseus, of Aeneas, of gods, of monsters.  We read material from 7,000 years ago up to 2000 years ago, the poet Ovid in 40AD.  What is it that is held in these stories?  What are the authors communicating to us?

As we explored the stories using various “toolboxes”: Psychoanalysis, Myth and Ritual, Functionalism, and Structuralism.  Each of the “toolboxes” is a different way of interpreting the meaning behind a myth.

Functionalism explains human society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely normscustomstraditions, and institutions.  A functionalist reading of myths might extract the universal human laws.

Here is the list of the Universal Human Laws:

The Universal Human Laws

Parthenon, East Frieze, Slab 4 (Gods)
Parthenon, East Frieze, Slab 4 (Gods), credit: profzucker
  1. Nostalgia is the most powerful force in the universe.
  2. If you want to persuade people you should know your audience.
  3. It’s not good to be food.
  4. A leadership decision means choosing between two bad options.
  5. When you tell a lie, you should keep close to the truth.
  6. Secrecy creates intimacy.
  7. A deep connection with the land is a common human expression.
  8. People at the top of the power structure and people at the bottom of the power structure tend to embrace the idea of teleology (destiny, universe is moving towards a natural order of things).

What do you think of these 8 universal laws?  What strikes you about these 8?  What seems to be missing?

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” George Bernard Shaw
Beware of Pigs

One tool of “pigs” in manipulative persuasion is the rhetorical fallacy.  A fallacy is a deliberate mis-use of logical argument.  You’ll find them regularly in political, social and family “discussions”.  Don’t get drawn in to a debate centered on a fallacy.  Ignore the fallacy and re-connect with the argument.

Ski Trail 4496Here are eight common rhetorical fallacies:

  • Slippery slope – “If we let Europe regulate our banks, next we will all be speaking German“. This fallacy connotates a small (reasonable) step with a much larger (unreasonable) outcome.
  • Sweeping Generalization – “Smoking kills; therefore all smokers are suicidal“. This generalizes one element of a decision to smoke in absence of the broader set of reasons for smoking.
  • Hasty generalization – “Everyone I know likes chocolate; therefore everyone likes chocolate“. My sample is not representative of the larger population.
  • Straw man – “If we just open up our borders, every beggar, lazy and crazy will be here tomorrow.”   This is a false argument that avoids the real issue.
  • False choice – “You’re either with us, or against us.”  This statement presents 2 options when in reality 3 or more choices exist.  Another common example: “If you really loved me, you would…
  • Argument from authority – “Because I’m your father“.  There is no logic involved.  This is not an argument.  
  • Argument from force – “Give me the toy or my big brother will beat you up.”  No argument, just the threat of force.  It can be subtle.  
  • Ad hominem attacks – “Vote for me because the other guy is a liar.”  A personal attack, ignoring the actual argument.


Beware the Pigs Inside

These are used by other people, but I sometimes find that some of my own inner reasoning falls into the fallacy structure.  As I reflect on my own thinking processes, I watch carefully for use of these fallacies.  My ego loves to come up with self-serving but false logic to prove my “rightness”.

Have you spotted any fallacies today?

I just finished reading Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson on my kindle.  I am a regular reader of Max’s Atkinson’s blog.  Max is a political speechwriter, a professor and a blogger.  You can follow him on twitter @maxatkinson.

Lend Me Your Ears is an easy read and covers the subject of public speaking in an accessible manner.  It is well written.  This is not an “academic” treatise, but a practical guide to improve your impact as a speaker.  The material is most suitable for those who already have public speaking experience.  It is not a book for first-time speakers – although you will quickly find the material in the book of help as soon as you get some initial experience of public speaking.

Lend Me Your Ears is divided into 5 sections.

Part 1 – The Language of Public Speaking
Part 2 – Visual Aids and Verbal Crutches
Part 3 – Winning with Words
Part 4 – Putting Principles into Practice
Part 5 – Body Language and Speech

Part 1 explains that public speaking is a format of communication that is quite different from everyday conversation.  As we grow we have each gained plenty of experience in conversations, but we need to leave some of the conventions of conversation behind in order to become compelling public speakers.  One area that Max discusses in depth is how “umms” and “ahhs” serve a purpose in conversation, but reduce greatly your power as a public speaker.

Part 2 looks at how to use visual aids in a manner that is effective for the audience – not as an aide-memoir for the speaker.  Max is on a mission to break the cult of presenters that read their 100-slide powerpoints to the audience.

Part 3 looks at using some simple but powerful rhetorical techniques – alliteration, repetition, lists of 3, contrasts and analogies that can be clumsy in written communication, but multiply your impact when public speaking.  I found this section a great summary of rhetorical technique.

Part 4 is about converting speech ideas into powerful delivery.  Much as with sports, all the theory in the world matters very little if you don’t perform on the big day.

Part 5 is about delivering your speech in a way that transmits credibility and energy to your audience.

Summary
Lend Me Your Ears is a great resource that will help you move from regular speaker to memorable, impactful speaker.  Have you read it?  What other public speaking books are good for the experienced public speaker?