Harry Wong
Oct 2017
Vol 14 No 3

Communication 101 – Caution: Dangerous Reading

By Tim Newlin

A young lad who has gone to his uncle’s farm for the summer wakes early the first day and is ordered to go out to the barn and hitch up the mule. A half hour later the uncle enters the barn to find his nephew all sweaty and dirty and out of breath. The uncle asks what’s going on and why he hasn’t even gotten the mule out of the stall. When the lad explains that the mule just won’t move, his uncle picks up a log, whacks the mule over the head, then leads the mule outside explaining, “See, first you get his attention!”

I heard this anecdote  in my last year of University delivered by an elderly female professor wearing a red clown nose (which she never took off or explained during the lecture) on the first day of Speech 101 – a class I had omitted or had no time for in my 6 years struggling to get my Architectural degree. My recent work with scientists at Copenhagen University has prompted me to write her wisdom down in my own way as a sort of “Communication 101.”

GET THEIR ATTENTION – Begin your talk by saying or doing something that the audience cannot ignore. Arrive on a bicycle, use an umbrella, wear or drop something and laugh at it. A red clown nose works well!

KEEP THEIR ATTENTION – praise their intelligence – thank them for their attention and their time. Ask them simple questions or state simple human truths (subject relevant) that they all can relate to. A person who is allowed to speak, is a person who is paying attention to what’s being said.

WIN THE BATTLE BEFORE YOU BEGIN – know what you wish to accomplish with the communication, what result you want – know how your audience will respond and what they will do – Your audience is an enemy because you must do battle with their mental inertia: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” – Sun Tzu (The Art Of War)

TELL THEM THREE TIMES – tell them what you are going to tell them – then tell them – then tell them what you told them. This sounds stupid but if done with care it is a very effective way to insure that your audience gets the message. You tell them what is coming so they are prepared and with open minds. Then you deliver your talk. At the end, you wrap it up by summarizing the journey in just a few words which will stick with them and make it easier to remember the details.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING – as with comedy and life itself, the timing in use of visuals or intriduction of a new thought is as important as the subject itself. Do not show or say something until they are ready to see or hear it. Present a new idea or concept by asking a question like, “And what do you think happened next?…” or “I bet you know what that means don’t you?…” Wait a couple of beats before looking into their eyes and then giving the answer or flashing the slide on the screen. This makes them want to test themselves and to answer before they see.

BUILD YOUR CASE BRICK BY BRICK – visual and written arguments should not always be presented as a finished product – you must explain each element and allow your audience to see and know each part before you show how they fit or what they look like used in a “whole” – like LEGO bricks versus a finished toy. Do not go on before you are sure that they are with you. Do not assume that your audience has the knowledge needed for your concept to be understood.

BE CONSISTENT – any visual metaphors used must be connected and related. Remember that every story you tell builds a different visual image in each person’s mind, and that every image you show will be seen by each in a slightly different way. Too many visual stories will confuse the eye and more than one metaphor used to explain a process or idea will blind them to the idea you are trying to explain. Remember also that the visual mind works 10 times faster than the verbal mind and lies in different parts of the brain. USE HUMOR – but only 1-2 times in the course of the talk – be sure it is on subject, informative, and in good taste. Know that if you have timed your talk well that you can induce humor by simply presenting the next drawing or the next step in your talk if you use the right words. Humor humanizes you presentation and says you care for your audience.

COMMUNICATE WITH THEM NOT AT THEM – do not be pedantic – let them know you are searching and questioning and human, and that you very much want them to join you in this quest for new knowledge – share something personal.

END WHERE YOU BEGAN – the very best talks are those that come full circle and return to the opening. This allows you to point out how far you have all come together and the journey you have taken together. Leave them with a way of smiling at you or themselves. Remembering the person who delivers the new idea is a way of validating a concept and implanting it in their minds with a face and an an experience of having been with you.

Now – that wasn’t so dangerous was it?

A list of traits that will help you recognize a poor public speaker:

They say nothing until something comes up on the screen.

They spend all their time talking with their backs to the audience.

They speak in a monotone voice with no breaks and no rhythm.

They have no eye contact with the audience.

They have body language says “I don’t want to be here.”

They fidget with a pointer or clicker while fumbling through slides.

They fill slides with too many bullet points.

They use too many charts and graphs.

They use too many clip-art clichés.

They try to communicate too much too fast causing info-overload.

They have little patience with questions and explanations.

They believe that detailed, visual data will somehow be absorbed into the brains of their audience.

©2013:Tim Newlin &



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This entry was posted on Monday, April 1st, 2013 and is filed under *ISSUES, April 2013, Tim Newlin. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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