When I read this recent piece in Wired Magazine, I thought, "Yes! That's what I've been thinking for years!"
The article makes the point that when people are called upon to present their reasoning to others, it actually improves their cognitive ability.
"GOING FROM AN AUDIENCE OF ZERO TO AN AUDIENCE OF 10 IS SO BIG THAT IT’S ACTUALLY HUGER THAN GOING FROM 10 PEOPLE TO A MILLION.
… a group of Vanderbilt University researchers in 2008 published a study in which several dozen 4- and 5-year-olds were shown patterns of colored bugs and asked to predict which would be next in the sequence. In one group, the children simply repeated the puzzle answers into a tape recorder. In a second group, they were asked to record an explanation of how they were solving each puzzle. And in the third group, the kids had an audience: They had to explain their reasoning to their mothers, who sat near them, listening but not offering any help. Then each group was given patterns that were more complicated and harder to predict.
The results? The children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better—the mere act of articulating their thinking process aloud seemed to help them identify the patterns more clearly. But the ones who were talking to a meaningful audience—Mom—did best of all. When presented with the more complicated puzzles, on average they solved more than the kids who’d explained to themselves and about twice as many as the ones who’d simply repeated their answers.
Researchers have found similar effects with adolescents and adults. When students were asked to write for a real audience in another country, their essays had better organization and content than when they were writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki—a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words—college students snapped to attention, carefully checking sources and including more of them to back up their work. Brenna Clarke Gray, an instructor at Douglas College in British Columbia, had her English students create Wikipedia entries on Canadian writers, to see if it would get them to take the assignment more seriously. She was stunned at how well it worked. “Often they’re handing in these essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up till 2 am, honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience—the Wikipedia community—was quite gimlet-eyed and critical. They were harder “graders” than Gray herself."
photo credit: Brisbane City Council
Life is always testing, and if we let it, teaching and stretching us. And as a coach, I often feel like life is giving me a chance to practice what I help others do: see challenges in a way that helps them take positive action and feel better about a situation.
Recently, an unimaginable, tragic event took the life of one of the brightest lights I have had the pleasure of knowing. I have struggled about whether to write about this. But, after reading an inspiring interview with her husband, decided that I would share my experience in the hopes that it might help others.
So many of us who were touched by her have been consumed with blinding grief.
It took me a full 4 days before this thought landed for me: her baby escaped miraculously unharmed. While I’m sure the thought had passed through my mind, it hadn’t settled and taken up any real space.
No new interpretation will help us make sense of senseless tragedies. But some new interpretations can relieve pain. When in pain — and we often experience some sort of pain a million times a day — it’s always easiest to find the worst interpretation. As Buddha’s Brain author Rick Hanson writes, the brain is like a sponge for negative thoughts and Teflon for positive thoughts. It’s an unfortunate survival technique remnant of our 100,000 year-old brains.
I didn’t find the positive thought on my own. It took a conversation with a fellow coach, mom, and friend Hana to see any light in this story. She went on to hypothesize, “I bet her last thought was ‘Please spare my child’.”
While there is no way to prove this happened, I can fully imagine it.
At any point, I get to decide which story I want to give my attention to. And we can ‘prove’ any interpretation correct. The thought that my friend’s last wish on earth was granted, gives me a modicum of relief.
It’s not what you believe; it’s how your beliefs are working for you.
Think about any person or situation you’re struggling with. What is the story you keep repeating about it? How do you feel when you think that thought? Then try to shift it. Find another thought that feels plausible. Notice what you feel. Keep working at it until you find relief.
The more entrenched we are in negative feelings, the harder it is to find a way out. That’s why it often takes a neutral third party to help us see another possible interpretation.
This is not a treatise on grief; I am no grief counselor. But I know that some of you reading this have overcome grief. I would love if you would share what helped you in the comments section, so anyone reading this can benefit from your experience.
When I am in pain, the other sources I go to (in addition to a short list of incredible coaches, healers, and friends) are books, poetry, and music.
The point is, don’t stew in your story. Fight like crazy for a new interpretation that opens up possibility and light. Get support in any, and many, forms.
Our thoughts are figments of our emotions and imaginations, that guide our actions and shape our reality.
What reality are you shaping?
What support will you gather to help you escape your thought trap?
Today, practice seeing everyone as a mortal, precious soul. Tell people how much they matter to you.
This is the poem that appeared when I asked for consolation:
Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who knows only 4 words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me.”
– Hafiz (1320-1389)
Please share any resources that have helped you overcome grief.
photo credits: NatalieMaynor
12 things we know about how the brain works from The Week and Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
1. Exercise boots brain power
Wondering whether there is a relationship between exercise and mental alertness? The answer is yes.
Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem. Essentially, exercise improves a whole host of abilities prized in the classroom and at work. [Brain Rules]
2. Your brain is a survival organ
The human brain evolved, too.
The brain is a survival organ. It is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion (to keep you alive long enough to pass your genes on). We were not the strongest on the planet but we developed the strongest brains, the key to our survival. … The strongest brains survive, not the strongest bodies. … Our ability to understand each other is our chief survival tool. Relationships helped us survive in the jungle and are critical to surviving at work and school today. … If someone does not feel safe with a teacher or boss, he or she may not perform as well. … There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle. [Brain Rules]
3. Every brain is wired differently
What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like — it literally rewires it. … Regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people. The brains of school children are just as unevenly developed as their bodies. Our school system ignores the fact that every brain is wired differently. We wrongly assume every brain is the same. [Brain Rules]
4. We don't pay attention to boring things
The brain is not capable of multi-tasking. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can't do it. … Workplaces and schools actually encourage this type of multi-tasking. Walk into any office and you'll see people sending e-mail, answering their phones, Instant Messaging, and on MySpace — all at the same time. Research shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things. When you're always online you're always distracted. So the always online organization is the always unproductive organization. [Brain Rules]
We must do something emotionally relevant every 10 minutes to reset our attention.
5. Repeat to remember
Improve your memory by elaborately encoding it during its initial moments. Many of us have trouble remembering names. If at a party you need help remembering Mary, it helps to repeat internally more information about her. "Mary is wearing a blue dress and my favorite color is blue." It may seem counterintuitive at first but study after study shows it improves your memory. [Brain Rules]
6. Remember to repeat
How do you remember better? Repeated exposure to information / in specifically timed intervals / provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain. … Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information more elaborately if you want the retrieval to be of higher quality. Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information more elaborately, and in fixed, spaced intervals, if you want the retrieval to be the most vivid it can be. Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into the memory store rather than when it is jammed in all at once. … Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts. This experiment has been done hundreds of times, always achieving the same result: Words presented in a logically organized, hierarchical structure are much better remembered than words placed randomly — typically 40 percent better. [Brain Rules]
photo credit: Hey Paul Studios
by Terry Gault
This is a very effective and emotionally powerful ad from Skype. I dare you not to cry (or at least smile).
It’s all very well to be prepared for a talk or presentation, but if something goes awry (a cell phone rings, the wrong slide pops up, you forget your place, etc), it’s easy to panic. This tends to produce anxiety, and stress = sweaty palms, physical tremors, accelerated heart rate and more. When this happens, we begin to focus on the feeling of anxiety and not what’s happened to interrupt the presentation. This self-misguided focus exacerbates the problem as we berate ourselves inside, then wish we could just disappear completely.
We can spiral downward into deeper and deeper levels of Panic and Paranoia. Or we can follow a simpler six-step process using the acronym ABSORB:
- Aware (You become aware that there is a problem or something has gone 'wrong')
- Breathe (Stop and get your brain the fresh oxygen it needs to function properly)
- Stillness & Silence (Practice stillness and silence to avoid giving away your concern and exerting self-control.)
- Options (Quickly brainstorm things you can do: Bring attention to what is happening? Say nothing? Skip over the offending slide? Check your notes? Turn off your ringing cell phone?)
- React (Choose an option and do it).
- Breathe (Stop again. Did the option you chose work? Evaluate the situation and make sure you are remaining calm. Convey to the audience: “I’ve got this.”)
Situate the notes near a glass or bottle of water. If you do go blank, simply:
- Pick up the water, glancing at your notes as you do so.
- Drink the water, as you gather your thoughts and refocus your energy.
- Set down the water, glancing once more at your notes, if needed.
- Carry on as if the entire act of drinking was carefully planned and choreographed from the get go.
by Terry Gault
Having coached clients on presentation skills since 1997, I’ve noticed some clear patterns in the behavior of inexperienced presenters.
The list follows with detailed explanations below. I’ve included suggestions on how to be more effective.
• Using small scale movements and gestures
• Speaking with low energy
• Playing it safe
• Not preparing enough
• Not practicing enough
• Preparing too much material
• Data centric presentations
• Avoiding vulnerability
• Taking themselves way too seriously
What do I mean by each of these?
1. Using small scale movements and gestures
Most rookie presenters are afraid to take up too much space. This hesitance comes across like an apology to the audience. For more on this topic, check out our post titled “What the heck do I do with my hands?!?”
2. Speaking with low energy
Actually, this problem is not restricted solely to rookie presenters. 80 – 90% of the presenters that I observe do not expend enough energy. Hence, they come across as uninvolved, uninteresting, and unenthusiastic. Crank up the energy level! You will command more attention and project more confidence and charisma. I cannot stress this strongly enough. For more, check out our video on Speaking With Passion.
3. Playing it safe
Many presenters, rookies included, avoid taking risks. As my mentor and co-founder of our company often said, “Not taking a risk is also a risk.” When your presentation content is too safe, it usually comes across as boring. When the most important ability as a speaker is the ability to garner attention, can you afford to avoid taking risks?
4. Not preparing enough
Granted, many rookie presenters don’t know how to prepare effectively other than preparing their media (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc.). Experienced speakers do plenty of research so that they feel confident in their material and their ability to respond to any question the audience might throw at them. They daydream about their topic even during ‘down time’ and often find the most creative ideas when doing other activities. I often come up with great ideas while driving, shopping, or running. It’s important to go through multiple drafts or iterations of your material, revising and editing, to arrive at the most finished form of your talk.
5. Not practicing enough
Not practicing your talks and presentations on your feet is one of the single biggest mistakes you can make. Experienced speakers will often do a dry run of their material with a trusted audience of friends, family, or colleagues. They will simulate the environment of their presentation using a projector and slide remote. They’ll choreograph their movements and gestures which will dramatically increase your ability to remember your material. They recognize areas of challenge (weak segues, awkward media transitions, etc.) and come up with tricks and tactics to help them flow seamlessly through their material.
6. Presenting too much material
Though it’s always better to have more material than you need, you also need to know what you will cut if you run out of time. Rookie presenters feel compelled to get through all their material even if it means going past their allotted time. I’ve heard of speakers who have gone as much as 45 minutes over their time commitment. This is inexcusable. If you want to estimate how much time your talk will actually take in front of an audience, practice on your feet and time yourself. Expect your actual talk will take at least 25% longer and maybe even 50%. Speakers often expand even further on their topic when they see audience’s reactions.
Rushing further exacerbates any existing delivery or content problem you may already have. Phrases will lose impact because you are rushing. Slowing down will make you seem far more poised and confident and experienced. Using more pauses will also:
a) Increase audience perception as well as your feeling of confidence and ease.
b) Give your audience time to digest your key points and give those points greater impact.
c) Give you time to formulate your thoughts into more succinct and cogent sentences.
8. Data centric presentations
If your talk is focused on data rather than the vivid human story the data tells, you are in trouble. In the June 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine, Leslie Bradshaw, the COO of Guide is speaking about Big Data. She states: “The art is in preparing the content for optimal human consumption. The data doesn't just talk back to you. You collect, you analyze, you tell stories. Think of an iceberg. Underneath the waterline are data storage and analysis. Those are your engineers and scientists. Up above is the interface. It's both literal and narrative. It starts with the hard sciences–the math, the analytics–but it ends up with the softest: how to tell the story.”
9. Avoiding vulnerability
This will seem very counter-intuitive to many young presenters but you must find ways to show vulnerability if you want to be seen as credible. If you are obviously trying to hard to seem perfect, savvy audiences will see through your act and become even more suspicious. Tells stories about times when you made dumb mistakes and then reveal what you learned. In Brene Brown’s talk on Vulnerabilty at TED, she states, “The original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart … very simply, the courage to be imperfect.”
For more on vulnerability, here are some related posts on our blog.
10. Taking themselves way too seriously
Many speakers tend to be very serious and formal. If they could bring more of their natural, informal style into their presentations, they would be more authentic and engaging and authentic. The stiff formality and rigid “professionalism” many tend to slip into when presenting may garner respect but respect only has value if people actually want to spend time with you. If you defer too much to your audience, you are projecting that you are not of an equal stature. Respect the audience’s professionalism but relate to their humanity informally. By speaking to them more informally, you project that you are equal. They will read that as confidence. As I often say to clients, “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.”
photo credit: audiolucistore
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Denise Green of Brilliance Inc.
Resolve No More
A few years ago, I gave up the practice of making New Year’s Resolutions, thus giving up the sense of failure and accompanying guilt that rolled around mid-March. Maybe you are one of those people that always keep your resolutions. If so, stop reading. If not, don’t despair: you are entirely normal (unlike those other freaks).
Blame it on the Brain
Here’s neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz’ explanation for why we so often fail to meet our goals:
“Change is pain.”
“Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort in the form of attention…which leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable. So they do what they can to avoid change.”
So, it’s not entirely your fault. Your brain is set on protecting you from discomfort. The result: you further cement hard-wired habits.
The good news: you can become the boss of your brain.
First, you have to better understand your specific resistance to change. For this, we can look to the amazing work of two researchers, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. In their book, Immunity to Change, they describe how each of us has a sophisticated, often subconscious, system of practices, fears, and assumptions that keep us locked in place and thwart our attempts to change.
They write: “The most reliable route to ultimately disrupting the immune system begins by identifying the core assumptions that sustain it.” Examples of big assumptions include:
- I don’t have time to exercise (so I’ll just keep wearing my ‘fat pants’)
- If I delegate, it won’t get done as well (so my work pile mounts and no one beneath me grows)
- People are not to be trusted (so I withhold information & cause them to distrust me)
- ______ is evil, incompetent, etc. (so I behave like a jerk too)
Once you identify your story, you can begin to test its validity.
Unravel the Story
In 2010, I began using their simple Immune Identification process with private clients and workshop participants. In one team offsite, a VP stopped me at the break after about 45 minutes with the process and said “I’ve been to a lot of these meetings and I have never seen people learn so much about themselves and reveal so openly as I just witnessed.”
Whether you want to change yourself, an employee, or an organization, begin by discovering the change immune system, or risk wasting precious energy and resources for short-lived improvements.
Given that I could not find a concise handout in their book or website, I developed a set of instructions based on Kegan and Lahey’s work that I use with success with my clients.
And if you want an even faster way to achieve your goal, make it a ‘must’ instead of a wimpy, dis-empowering ‘should’. Then take one small step toward achieving it now. Make the call, book an appointment, take a 5-minute walk. Just do something NOW to begin building momentum. I know you have it in you. Here’s to a brilliant new year.
Books:Immunity to Change
In her moving and thought-provoking TEDxBerkeley talk titled, "The Communication Cure", Dr. Neha Sangwan. CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, shares her views on the profoundly negative impacts that lack of communication can have on our health.
She posits that genuine and profound communication reveals what we really care about and can be remarkably healing.
Her message is so profound that she is visibly moved on several occasions during the talk. Invest the time. This is a very important talk.