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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Oct 142016
 
  • Do you hear your voice on a recorded message and wonder, “Who is that?”
  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable with your voice and wish you could speak differently?

Of the many people who answer “yes” to these two questions, only a fraction ever see a speech pathologist or voice coach to improve the sound of their voice.  It is possible to develop a voice that reflects who you are and the imagine of yourself you want to project. Possessing a melodic voice with resonance is an asset on both personal and professional levels.

  •  What defines a “good speaking voice?”

Clear speech with standard production of all speech sounds is a prerequisite. In order to be clearly understood, your voice should be free of articulation errors, in other words, employ proper “diction.” For some speakers, especially those for whom English is not their native language, this may mean accent modification.

A natural sounding voice includes appropriate melody and rhythm to capture the listener’s attention. Flat, monotone speech with little variation puts listeners at arm’s length.

Speech with appropriate inflection helps reinforce you as a knowledgeable speaker. Sentences you use to give information should have a downward inflection at the end. “Up Speak,” that annoying rising inflection at the end of every sentence does not help to inspire confidence.

Vocal resonance is one of the keys to a voice that listeners find pleasing to the ear. Good resonance involves proper placement of speech sounds in the vocal and nasal cavities and provides a richness and warmth to the voice.

Vocal projection remains a critical factor: if you can’t be heard who will listen?  Projecting your voice doesn’t mean yelling, however. Infusing energy with good breath support is the key to being heard.

Speaking with authority employs many of the features I’ve noted above and is probably one of the main reasons that doctors, lawyers, professionals in many fields, employ a vocal coach.

Good speakers who capture the attention of their listeners are not necessarily born that way. Many people work with a speech pathologist or voice coach to develop a more effective voice. Possessing a voice you like will make you a more confident person. Can you develop the skills to change the sound of your voice? Absolutely!

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Aug 242015
 

Some children, as well as adults, punctuate their speech with “um’s” and “ah’s” to their discomfort and those around them.  I am often asked:

  • Are repetitions of words and phrases a form of stuttering?
  • Can anything help people who can’t seem to get their words out?

“Ums” and “ahs” can be found at times in most people’s speech, but for some people this becomes a constant pattern.  As a speech pathologist I’ve heard many people describe their own speech or the speech of others as stammering or stuttering.  But are there really so many stutterers in the world?

Approximately one percent of the adult population can be termed true “stutterers.”  A stutterer’s speech is notable for repetitions or prolongations of sounds, especially at the beginning of a word, but also within a sentence. Facial characteristics of eye blinking, grimacing or other physical gestures can accompany stuttering.  Most stutterers exhibit this pattern beginning in childhood but the onset may begin in early adolescence.  A speech pathologist will be able to diagnose stuttering, which differs in intensity and characteristics from normal dysfluency.

  • Why do some people seem to have difficulty finishing a sentence?

“Um’s” and “ahs”, as well as repetions of words and phrases, function as “fillers” for both children and adults.  Expressing one’s ideas in a novel string of words is actually rather miraculous.  Of all species, only human beings are unique for the ability to find words and create sentences full of meaning and variety.  For some people, this process does not come so easily.

Both children and adults can create more fluent speech by planning their sentences, focusing on the ideas they want to convey, taking time to generate words and sentences, and using silent pausing rather than filling space with “um’s”, “ahs” or repetitions.

For individuals who find modifying their speech a difficult task, therapy for fluent speaking will make a critical difference.  Becoming a fluent speaker can become a gratifying means of expressing oneself — satisying  for the speaker and for those who are listening.

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Check back soon for more articles on communication, speech pathology, writing and cognitive function.

 

Jul 012015
 

TRUE OR FALSE?

  • Writing reports and essays are just requirements for school.
  • Emails don’t count as writing
  • All the grammar and punctuation you learn at school doesn’t apply in today’s technological world.
  • Computer programs and apps can correct mistakes in my writing.

If you believe any of the statements above are “true”, you’re in for a surprise.

Even though a great deal of  business correspondence takes place in the form of email, the fundamentals remain unchanged from the way things have been done for more than a century.  In today’s “real” world, resumes, letters and the traditional forms of business communication that previously took place by snail mail still remain the means for job application and information sharing.

If you apply for a job through an online portal you still need to write a convincing cover letter that makes you a desirable candidate to a potential employer.

If you write a report and email it to your boss, a clearly written document, proofread and without errors, remains the gold standard.

Spell check and grammar check frequently miss errors because the programs fail to identify “real” words (homonyms or homophones) that do not fit appropriately in a particular context.  For example, “There” is a real word, but you may mean “their” and spell check will not make the substitution for you.  The contraction “it’s” is not the same as the possessive pronoun “its” but an app will not catch the error.  Many Android and iPhone users of word prediction can relate embarrassing stories of sending an email that conveyed an entirely different meaning than intended because they didn’t catch the word the app inserted.

Fundamentally, technology functions assistively but computers do not infer a writer’s intention or the logic of an argument.  No computer program creates the sentences that describe a person’s experience or the results of a piece of research.  Technology may even sabotage a well-constructed sentence or paragraph by applying a generic form of spelling or a grammar principle that does not function appropriately in your writing.

In the end, there is no foolproof tool for standard spelling and grammar rules or an assistive device to carefully proofread a document.  Whether mailing a letter or hitting the “send” button, all those sometimes tedious rules of grammar and spelling still count.  In today’s highly competitive world, they count even more.

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

 

 

Jun 022015
 
  • Are the 3 r’s,”reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic” the basics of what one needs to know?

For many years, educators have emphasized “the 3 r’s” as the cornerstone of skills students must have for academic success.  While these remain critical skills, the fourth part of the cornerstone has rarely been given appropriate focus but remains essential for students and later in adulthood. Speaking, the other half of reading/writing, remains a neglected skill in education — but has major significance for students and adults.

Acquiring the ability to find words to express oneself, string them together in phrases and sentences, and articulate these complex sounds with the standard production within one’s spoken language is a process we take for granted.  Only when the process becomes disrupted do we question what is truly a miraculous feature of the human brain and nervous system.

When children have difficulty with developing speech and language — for a variety of reasons — we may come to understand how unique speaking is among all the living species.  So too, only when an adult has an injury or illness that disrupts the normal process of speech and language do we come to realize that these are skills usually taken for granted.

  • What about healthy, educated adults who find expressing themselves difficult?

To those individuals who have difficulty speaking — especially where they’re being judged or evaluated — it may appear that everyone else speaks fluently and easily.  This isn’t the reality, however.  More people have difficulty expressing their thoughts in formal settings than they will admit.  Adding to the pressure to speak well, the contexts for speaking/presenting occur more frequently as one progresses up the professional ladder.

  • Do poor speaking and/or writing skills make a difference in a world where technical knowledge remains most important?

In my practice I have worked with educated, intelligent individuals who need to express their ideas to clients and present their work in public forums.  Even further, they need to create reports and written documents to summarize and illustrate their expertise.

The critical abilities for organizing information and presenting in front of other professionals in a variety of contexts becomes a stumbling block for many people seeking professional development.  The link between the organization of material — focusing on key features (critical for any presentation) — and making a strong verbal presentation involves both writing and speaking skills.

  • Even in our technologically-oriented world, the twin verbal skills of speaking and writing remain critical life skills.

It seems clear that in the 21st century, the “3’r’s” need to be modified to the cornerstone of “3 plus 1”: “reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and speaking.”  Technology has become an important tool for information management and presentation, but the spoken/written word remains essential.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 132015
 

Winter Lake George.edit

Individualized, corporate workshops can be developed for your company or school.  Feel free to contact me by phone or email: [email protected], or 914-631-5082.

There are no upcoming public workshops scheduled during the winter of 2015 but I frequently post my articles on public speaking, writing, language, cognitive function and speech pathology on the Blog section of the website.

Jan 162015
 
  • Is winter worse for the speaking voice?
  • Is it possible to maintain a healthy voice during cold season?
  • Why are some people susceptible to hoarse voice, especially in cold weather?

Winter brings dry skin and chapped lips, as well as increased vocal problems for many people, not only professional voice users such as teachers, singers and clergy.  In fact, most people actually rely on their voices in the average day more than they realize.  Speaking on the phone, participating in meetings, socializing — all these activities engage the voice and in some cases, place strain on the vocal cords.

What is different about the winter season?

In the northeast and other parts of the country where cold weather prevails for several months, heating systems pump out dry, warm air. Many people lower their fluid consumption, especially water, because they aren’t feeling as thirsty as they would during the summer.  Without adequate moisture, tissues in the larynx (where the vocal cords are located) dry out.  This results in a greater tendency for hoarse, raspy vocal quality, especially when we place greater speaking demands on the voice.

Winter also brings an increase in colds and all forms of upper respiratory infection.  Colds produce excess mucous, an annoyance that most people deal with by forceful throat clearing. Unfortunately, this sets up a cycle of clearing, further irritation, and increased mucous.

How to handle the dryness caused by indoor heating as well as the irritation and excess mucous from colds?

Speech pathologists who treat voice problems emphasis general vocal care for everyone, especially for people who rely on their voice for work.  During the winter, especially cold season, the principles of vocal care/vocal hygiene become even more important.  Here are some of the recommendations I make for professional voice users, as well as the average speaker:

  • drink extra water during the day, especially when speaking
  • avoid forceful throat clearing by using a silent swallow
  • drink warm, decaffeinated drinks (caffeine dehydrates the delicate tissues in the vocal area)
  • reduce the strain you put on your vocal cords by becoming conscious of how you use your voice in noisy environments

The last, and perhaps the most important piece of advice: use proper breath support for speech.  Singers learn techniques of breath support for performance, as do actors, but most speakers have little training in this critical skill.  Speech pathologists who treat voice disorders can guide all speakers, not just professional voice users, in breath techniques to avoid vocal strain and maintain a healthy speaking voice.

Care for your voice all year ’round and it will be less likely to cause you difficulties in the winter.

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