Sep 142018
 
  • How important can storytelling be if it’s not taught in school?

In a recent article in The New York Times by Frank Bruni entitled, “How to Get the Most Out of College,” he writes: 

“Every successful pitch for a new policy, new product or new company is essentially a story, with a shape and logic intended to stir its audience. So is every successful job interview. The best moment in a workplace meeting belongs to the colleague who tells the best story… take a course that exposes you to the structure of narrative and the art of persuasion.”

For many years, storytelling was the means of communicating the important events of a group of people and carrying on the traditions of a tribe, sect or culture.  The value of transmitting “oral history” was unquestioned as an essential skill for thousands of years.  With the invention of the printing press and the rise of reading literary, less emphasis has been placed on oral history.

But on a personal level, “telling one’s story” remains as important as “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.”

  • If story telling is such a valuable skill, why isn’t it taught in school?

The old adage of going to school to learn “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic” has been translated into Common Core requirements during the last decade. While these remain critically important skills for students, the value of verbal expression has been lost in the drive for mandated educational goals and standardized assessment.

In today’s educational environment, teachers can be faulted for not teaching to a state-mandated curriculum that will be measured at various intervals by comprehensive testing. In some areas of the country teacher salaries and retention have become directly linked with testing results.

  • So where is the incentive and the time to implement storytelling skills in the school curriculum?

Few teachers or school districts will defy the current movement for accountability by allocating time for public speaking, learning to express oneself verbally and telling a personal story. Yet, clearly, this is a skill that will shape an individual’s future, as Frank Bruni emphasizes in his insightful article.

If schools cannot be relied on to teach storytelling skills, then it falls to families to foster these skills as much as possible. Find opportunities to share the stories of previous generations, as well as the daily incidents of life in your family.  Encourage everyone, even the youngest child, to share experiences and ideas, and give each person the time and opportunity to be the center of attention by “telling a story.”   

For adults who need to hone their storytelling skills, seek out opportunities to relate stories to friends and colleagues.  If you feel uncomfortable with this prospect, work with a professional who can help you shape a personal narrative and develop your speaking skills.   Being able to represent yourself may be the key to achieving your personal goals — as well as modeling those skills for your children.

Practice your skills by telling stories and equip your children for success by finding ways to help them become storytellers.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, writing, speech-language pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 062018
 

See my television interview tomorrow, June 7, 2018 at 4:20 PM with Sandy Kenyon, entertainment reporter, on Eyewitness News, WABC, Channel 7 in New York, where I discuss the nature of stuttering and how dramatics has helped famous actors deal with their stuttering.

 

May 212018
 

After childhood, what value lies in storytelling?

As adults, the willingness and ability to talk about one’s observations and experiences not only provides a way of keeping verbal skills sharp, but perhaps as importantly, becomes of means of emotional health.

As we grown older, many people hide their feelings and experiences out of embarrassment or concern about boring others.  The example of the person who “tells the same stories over and over again” inhibits many people from telling stories about themselves.  For those people, discussing current affairs or business interests becomes the pivot for conversation.  But they deprive themselves of the opportunity of expressing their own feelings and ideas — and important outlet for personal expression.

In some families, traditions exist that everyone, children and adults, tell a story at the dinner table or family gatherings.  Many skilled writers credit their success to the expectation that each person tell a story to the family at night.  Within families, the opportunity to tell one’s story can be a first step toward building self confidence and learning to bond with others. 

As we become older, we often relate to others by the stories we tell — if we use the opportunity — and solidify our connections to other people.  

As people age, the wisdom and experience they relate to their children, grandchildren, and those around them often comes through stories.  Personal history doesn’t have to be recorded formally in writing: we all have the opportunity to tell our stories and enrich the lives of others, as well as ourselves.

Tell a story and give yourself, and others, the joy that comes from using the unique talent we have as humans: connecting through ideas and words.

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Apr 022018
 

Whether speaking or writing the following key points apply for effective business communications:

  • Tailor your message to your audience

If you’re trying to create a dialogue with another individual, consider the interests of the person you’re interacting with: are they receptive to what you have to say?  Do you need to capture their interest?  What expectations will they bring to your message?

  • Be clear and direct in your language

Choose your words carefully to carry your message.  Consider the different ways some words can be misunderstood: semantics matter!  If you mean to convey a humorous tone, make that clear by the words you use.  Avoid sarcasm which can easily be misunderstood and taken negatively.

  • Avoid slang

 Unless you intend to use a “breezy” tone,  utilize standard English words that will not be misunderstood, especially if you are conveying serious information.  In casual conversation slang expressions may be more appropriate, but generally not in business communication.

  • Use the technical vocabulary of your field

 If you want to be perceived as knowledgeable in a particular area, learn the terms specific to the field and use them appropriately in your message.  Avoid generic terms if you can use more specific vocabulary.

  • Avoid flowery, verbose language

Your audience will appreciate language that gets to the point and doesn’t waste time. Remove ambiguity that can occur with extra words or sentences that are vague or repetitive.

  • Always be socially appropriate

 Be gracious in your communications.  Thank people for their time and attention and make it sound like you mean it by choosing socially appropriate language.  Try to personalize your communication by avoiding overused (throwaway) phrases.

  • In face to face speech, match body language with your words

As specific as you may be with your words, be sure you “look” like what you are saying by showing appropriate affect in your facial expression, gestures and posture.  Body language conveys meaning all by itself and can enhance “what” you say.  How” you say it counts as well! 

Polished language in business communication creates successful interactions — the key to success!

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Sep 122017
 

literate

[lit-er-it]

adjective
1. able to read and write
2. having or showing knowledge of literature, writing, etc.; literary; well-read
3. characterized by skill, lucidity, polish, or the like
4. having knowledge or skill in a specified field
5. having an education; educated; learned
  
Fundamentally, the literate person is a “learned person.”

Computer literate, social media literate, etc.  What does it mean to be “learned” these days?

We live in a constantly changing world. Technology has altered our society in ways as profound as the industrial revolution and the invention of the printing press in previous centuries.  To be literate these days means to have skills that allow for cognitive flexibility, to be able to acquire knowledge in order to change professions at any point in a person’s life.  It also means being able to learn new methods or applications in your field since change will happen in so many areas that formerly were static.

How do we educate our students, as well as our adult selves to deal with this fluid world?

The process begins in the early years of education where critical skills of literacy should be developed. Becoming a fluid reader, thoroughly mastering written and verbal communication and acquiring fundamental math skills should be the basics of education throughout the first 12 years of a student’s life. From the springboard of these skills a student can continue a lifetime of learning in the sciences and humanities.

Despite the trend toward specialized learning, commitment to a career path should not be emphasized in high school.  The curriculum at this point should be developing those skills that will allow a student to continue learning and adapting to a changing environment.  

While the definition of “literacy” includes “having knowledge or skill in a specified field,” the ability to learn and maintain that specialized knowledge requires prerequisites that will foster lifetime learning. Since the technological revolution of computers and the internet, few people will continue to work using the same methods or even engage in the same careers they expect to pursue.

How can adult learners keep up with the changing times?

Maintaining or developing the skills necessary to keep up with innovations in your field or taking a new career path remain essential.  In these changing times the executive function skills of organization, time management, mental flexibility and memory have become necessary tools to maintain “literacy” in our society.

Perhaps the key to this goal of lifetime literacy is fostering and pursuing curiosity about the world and the initiative to explore new areas of knowledge and innovation.  

The cognitive flexibility to continue learning requires a basis: the prerequisites of “literacy” as we now know it so it we can grow with the times and continue to be “literate” in the future.

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Mar 152017
 
  • Do you feel uncomfortable speaking in public?

  • Do you wonder if people will listen to what you have to say?

  • Do you think you need to have an unusual or unique life to talk about yourself?

More people than you can imagine will answer “Yes” to all the questions posed above — though they may not admit it out loud. Believing that you need to have a “charmed” life to tell a story about yourself is to deny the uniqueness we all possess.  Every person has their own story to tell, their own lens they use to see the world.  

But being a good storyteller doesn’t always involve relating your own story.  Indeed, many of the stories that capture our fancy beginning in childhood involve imagination, as well as observation.  The stories we witness that don’t necessarily involve ourselves, as well as those we create about others — these are all part of the storyteller’s raw material.

The essential skill to being a good storyteller involves creating a “dialogue” with other people.  Looking directly at your audience (of one or many) and using the importance presentation skills of voice, gesture, and body language will make your story appealing.

As children we know the  words, “Once upon a time” signal the beginning of a story.  But to capture our attention, these words need to be accompanied by the intonation, rhythm and rate that conveys a natural speaking voice.

One of the critical features of storytelling is the investment in the story by the storyteller.  A good storyteller conveys conviction:  the storyteller believes the story and wants to take you on a journey.  From “spinning a yarn” to “this is the absolute truth,” the stories that capture us are told in a way that invites us to listen and believe.

So why is storytelling so important?

Whether you’re pitching yourself in an interview, selling a product, or giving a presentation about your research, engaging the audience is the key to effectiveness.  

If you practice the art of storytelling you will approach any speaking situation as a moment to capture other people’s attention and involve them in what you say.

The answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this article can become “no” if you approach your speaking as “telling a story.”  You’re no longer the public speaker standing in front of an audience but a storyteller evoking the interest of everyone who has loved a good story since childhood.

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Jan 312017
 
  • Can the language of a negotiation prevent confrontation?
  • Can a negotiation be a discussion without opposition?
  • Can the parties in a negotiation establish a working dialogue?
  • Can all parties in a negotiation come out with a gain?

The answer to all the above questions is YES!  In fact the last question presents a critical feature of a successful negotiation: creating a “win-win” situation for all parties.  

Establish Dialogue

A negotiation needs to be a dialogue between all parties so that a compromise can be reached and each party gains some positive outcome.  Language lies at the heart of a successful negotiation.  Verbal language, the words and sentences to establish a dialogue without opposition, remains critical.  Body language must support the verbal part of communication as well.

Dealing With Differing Viewpoints 

It is inevitable that the parties in a negotiation will have different points of view.  Objecting to the other side’s position needs to be respectful, while acknowledging that the other party represents a different set of ideas.

Using language that is conciliatory will minimize opposition.  Phrases such as “from my perspective… I’m sorry, but… unfortunately…”

Negative verbal language will shut down a dialogue.  Phrases such as “you’re wrong… that’s a lie/incorrect…” will not foster compromise, which is the goal of every successful negotiation.

Body language needs to support a respectful dialogue.  A stiff, hands-crossed across body posture, grimacing or head shaking will contribute to confrontation, not dialogue.

Taking a Different Perspective

In a negotiation both parties should be able to explain their position and the reasons for their point of view.  Understanding the other side’s perspective can prove highly valuable in fostering compromise. Words such as “I can see your point, but… let’s try to find a middle ground…” can reduce opposition.  Remember the need for a “win-win” philosophy that underlies every successful negotiation.

Foster Compromise

Verbal statements that propose a middle ground can be framed as “if… then…” possibilities.  Language promoting compromise creates a “give and take” attitude and the potential for a “win-win” solution.

Body language to support this compromise can be represented by open hands, palms cupped or turning upwards, indicating an inclusion of both sides in a resolution.

Confirming the Solution

If you’re successful in reaching a compromise — no one wins a negotiation — it’s important to verbally summarize and state the agreement that has been reached so there’s no misunderstanding later.  In formal situations, a written form of the agreement will be documented either by one of the parties or an impartial third party.  The handshake or some form of body language signals that the negotiation has concluded — and everyone has “won” in the process.

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Nov 102016
 
  • Myth # 1:  It takes years to become an effective public speaker.
  • Myth # 2: Nobody else seems nervous when they make a presentation.
  • Myth # 3:  Most good speakers are born with the “gift of gab.”
  • Myth # 4: Being forced to stand up in front of others in a public speaking class will make you a better speaker.

These myths along with many others seemed fixed in most people’s minds but they’re not valid.

Consider this scenario:  You have to make a company presentation in two weeks.  You’ve written your material and organized your slides.  But when you stand up to rehearse, it doesn’t come out the way you imagine.  Panic sets in!  Is it too late?

Working with an experienced speech coach doesn’t have to be a long, arduous process.   Sometimes I need to help a client reshape a presentation by editing material to focus on key points.  At other times the material and slide presentations have been developed to suit the audience and time frame, so our work concentrates on presentation skills. While it usually takes several sessions to prep for an individual presentation, you should have some concrete tools to use after the first session. 

In some cases a speech coach helps a client deal with nervousness and fear of making a presentation.  It’s normal to have some anticipation before speaking in public; indeed, the spurt of adrenaline that occurs when we engage in a difficult task can be channeled to infuse your speaking with enthusiasm and energy.  But for those individuals who find themselves tongue-tied or hesitant because of nerves, the process of understanding the important features of effective speaking can be liberating.

Does a public speaking class where you take your turn making presentations reduce nervousness  and improve speaking skills?  I have worked with many individuals who have tried peer-based courses or cookie cutter approaches without any gains.  For most people an individualized program with an experienced speech coach makes the critical difference.

 Developing a plan based on your individual needs, learning the skills that apply to you, practicing your presentation and receiving pointed feedback from a professional can change your thinking about the myths that hold back many people from seeking out speaking opportunities.  In our competitive professional world, lacking the skills to speak effectively in a public forum limits your opportunities.

Even last minute coaching can make all the difference in your public speaking skills and professional advancement.  

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Sep 082016
 
  • Are we creating a generation that can’t look another person in the eye when they speak?
  • If we use emojis continuously do we lose the ability to find the adjectives and adverbs to express emotion?
  • Are social skills lost when we don’t engage in face-to-face dialogue?

Technology has created a revolution in communication no less radical than the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.  Cell phones, in particular, can bring world-wide access to the exchange of information and unite people across the world.  Social media has assisted political activity, even revolution, in multiple regions of the world during the last decade.  All these benefits, however, come with potential problems:  in this case, diminishing the opportunity for children and adolescents to develop strong skills in social communication and for adults to exercise the skills they have already acquired.

How many children, teenagers, even young adults would rather send a text message than call a friend?  Even more, how many adults use email for business and social interaction, eschewing the telephone and direct conversation?  How many children and adults feel the need to have their cell phones with them at all times, looking at incoming messages even as they sit at meals, socialize at parties, even while attending meetings?  Is the problem simply the obsession with technology or is it even deeper? What is happening to the skills for social and language pragmatics — the keys to communicating with another person?  How much is being lost or never developing?

Speaking with an individual should mean engaging in meaningful dialogue.   The critical skills of social pragmatics include the ability to understand tone and intonation, verbal nuances such as comedy and sarcasm, turn taking, maintaining eye contact to signal interest, and interpreting facial expression.  These are so essential that children and adolescents who never have good models and the opportunity to practice these skills can become awkward, nervous communicators.  They often become the individuals who have trouble interacting in social and professional contexts.

Can children learn these critical communication skills and adults exercise their abilities when they converse through text messages? The development of language and social competencies requires modeling and practice.  Relying too much on gestural language and a code such as emojis deprives individuals of the opportunity to stretch their language skills and find the right words — adjectives and adverbs — to describe feelings and thoughts.

How much failure to communicate accurately occurs in the cryptic, often abbreviated text message or even the email that is sent off without a second reading?  Shorthand and short cuts save time but may cost more than minutes in terms of the valuable skills for interacting with others.

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Check back soon for more articles on communications, effective speaking, speech pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

Aug 152016
 
  • When you speak do you capture people’s attention ?
  • Are you convincing and persuasive?

Whether you’re addressing a convention (as we’ve seen in the last month), a small group, or one other person in an interview, using the “authentic voice” can lead to a “yes” answer to these questions.

Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama project this authentic voice.  Hillary Clinton is trying to capture the voice but struggles with the problem of authenticity in her style.  What separates the two?

When I work with clients I recommend they “tell the audience the story.”  Doesn’t everyone enjoy hearing a story? From early childhood and even as adults, a storyteller captures our attention.  There are many elements to “telling a story”, including the structure of the story.  But for now, let’s focus on the voice.

A good storyteller uses a natural melody that varies in pitch and rhythm.  He or she connects with the listener through a soft vocal quality, not harsh or grating.  This “tone” conveys the message, “Come with me as I tell you my story.”  A “natural” voice has an authentic feel and brings the listener into a dialogue with the storyteller.  Michelle Obama used this technique at the convention when she drew listeners into her reminiscences of her years as First Lady as she watched her daughters grow from little girls into young women.

Throughout this past year none of the Presidential candidates have captured this “authentic” voice.  In one way or another, each one has taken a strong, critical approach and employed a voice with features that emphasize power and authority — but not the persuasive connection that the natural, authentic voice creates.

If you want to persuade another person, you need to draw the listener into a dialogue. Consider using the storyteller’s voice to convey an invitation: “come with me on the journey of my story.”  The “authentic” voice creates a connection between the speaker and the listener, a necessary beginning to the persuasive process.


Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, writing, executive function and speech-language pathology.