Friday, December 27, 2013

Semiotic Phenomenology of Human Communication

What is Semiotic Phenomenology?

Semiotics is the study of signs. A sign is anything which stands for or represents something else. Phenomenology is the study of human consciousness. So semiotic phenomenology is the study of how human beings process and give meaning to signs, wherein everything can be a sign. People are signs, words and gestures are signs, images are signs, architecture, haircuts and anything imaginable can be perceived as a sign. The essence of this research is in understanding how people give meaning to the world around them, this fluid mosaic of signs and symbols, where everything can be an indicator of something else.
Everything you communicate represents your company, organization or administration. Are you being represented in the best light? Do your signs and symbols represent who you really are? 
What are Your Signs Signifying?
In a world of signs, what signs are you creating? Every time we open our mouths, advertise, or hire a new person we are creating signs. These signs are given meaning by all who encounter them. Sometimes our intended meaning is accomplished; more often than not it misses the mark.
What do your words, gestures, images and advertisement say about you? What do they say about your attitudes toward your customer, and our shared world? Are they authentic and sincere, or contrived and self-serving? Because you know what? People can tell the difference—whether they can articulate it or not—they can sense it, feel it, and it drives their decision-making regarding you, your company and your product or service.
From our basic physical appearance and the words we say, to the causes we espouse, signifying features speak for us. And so, to understand human behavior—our employees, our potential customers, and even our competitors—we must understand the basis of how people give meaning to their world.
How We Can Help
For the first time ever, semiotic phenomenology is being applied to your communication and the results promise to revolutionize your effectiveness.
At Semiosphere Consulting we work from this advanced knowledge in communication theory—Semiotic Phenomenology—and apply it in a simple, practical, and most importantly, effective way. Whether it's your public speaking, or your overall brand, we'll help you look at it in a new way.
But first we listen. What are your communication needs? We first understand you, your needs and your goals. And then develop a strategy to help you achieve those goals.
Because human beings are, above all, meaning makers, our world is a semiosphere. And Semiosphere Consulting is your navigator through the ever-changing sign systems of contemporary culture.
Interested in Learning More?
For no charge, we will come in, do an initial analysis of your needs and prepare an action plan to suit you and your budget. Sometimes even small changes can change everything, and you may get that from just our initial consultation. Once you see the results though, we are betting you will want every aspect of your organization redesigned using the proprietary Semiosphere methodology. Finally, you can have the organization you have always dreamed of, one that truly represents you and everything you want it to be.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

Remember when you first learned to drive? You were probably pretty nervous, kept both hands on the wheel, held that wheel tightly, and shied away from highway driving because the sheer speed frightened you. Fast forward to now. You drive with one hand on the wheel (hopefully not with the other one on your cell phone!), zoom down the highway without a second thought, and laugh at how nervous you used to be. What has changed? Driving involves the same simple skills, but your attitude toward it is completely different. You have been transformed by your experience and success as a driver.

Public speaking is a similar endeavor. You will get more confident with experience and success. But there is a fundamental difference. Imagine if no one had ever TAUGHT YOU to drive. Your initial fear would be paralyzing and the results likely to lead to tremendous anxiety and difficulty, if not tragedy.

I find many people in this same situation with public speaking. They have seen others do it, so they have a rough idea of what should be done, but when they see it done masterfully they simply exclaim "I could never do that!". Well of course you couldn't if you have never been taught and had the chance to practice what you have been taught, right?

That's why I am employed. Because people need to be taught how to do this thing we call public speaking and taught how to do it well. So what I am about to share is true and helpful. However, these things alone will not make you a masterful speaker. You will need training for that. What they will do is help to reduce your anxiety a bit or at least help you manage it and use it to your advantage.

1. Know what you are talking about. There is really no substitute for this. If you are not confident in your knowledge of the topic, you will not be confident. It's as simple as that.

2. Approach public speaking with the right attitude and purpose. If you waste your time thinking about how much you dread your upcoming presentation, guess what? You will dread your presentation. The result being a dreadful talk. It is a simple self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, have a clear purpose aimed at improving the lives of your audience. You give a speech for and audience--not for a boss, a grade, or any other reason. Spend the time you have been wasting on fear and dread working on your speech!

3. Know your fundamentals. There is an art to this and there are certain conventions that have been proven to work. Familiarize yourself with them and employ them. A college public speaking course should do it for you. For those with less time, hire a pro. I can teach you in a couple of hours what you will spend four months learning in a college course because it will be tailored for you and your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Practice aloud. Can't emphasize this enough. I have written an entire blog entry on the subject. You really should read it.

5. Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, sugar, energy drinks, etc., will only intensify the adrenalin rush you are going to experience in the first minute or so.

6. For those with really bad problems there are techniques that a professional can share with you such as systematic desensitization, positive visualization, relaxation techniques, and classical conditioning.

7. Breathe. Simple but effective. Breathe deeply. Oxygen has a relaxing effect on the body as it makes its way from your lungs to the bloodstream and  muscles.

8. Or you can just hire someone like myself. Any communication consultant or speech coach worth their salt will be able to take you from frightened novice to fully functioning professional in relatively little time. This isn't rocket science. It's just specialized knowledge that a professional can share with you, not unlike the tax consultant or IT consultant we employ to help us...and every bit as essential to success.

I firmly believe that pretty much anyone can be a good competent speaker. I have seen thousands of students overcome their fear in my public speaking course so I'm very confident you can too. With the right help you CAN do this and eventually do it brilliantly.

That's all for today friends. Until we meet again, be well, speak well, and thank you for reading!

For those interested in learning more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gestures? Keep 'em Real

"What do I do with my hands?" is one of the most common questions I hear from those I teach and coach in public speaking. They are sometimes disappointed by my initial answer, because I tell them to "do what comes naturally", at least as a starting point. They would prefer some definitive answer. They want me to say "do this and that and you will be perfect", as if there were some magical hand dance that if learned, will make them a great speaker.

I am not a fan of choreographing gestures. All too often they look contrived and mechanical, more likely to attract our attention than genuinely support the message. And attracting attention to themselves is something gestures should not do. You want the audience's focus on what you are saying, not on your hand movements.

But I say "as a starting point" because what "comes naturally" to some might be to put their hands in their pockets or play with their hair! Once I have seen them speak I will frequently give specific suggestions, but first I need to get a sense of their nonverbal communication style and how it jibes with their verbal message.

Some people are naturally animated and gesture more than might be ideal, but it works for them. Others rarely use their hands, but when they do it is effective, reflecting a less animated personality type. Folks like this need little coaching. Some might try to tune down the former, and force more gesturing on the latter, but at what cost?

It is my professional opinion that authenticity is what people respond to. Far too many fine speakers have been turned into mechanical shadows of their true selves by consultants touting "power gestures" and the like. In the process they lose the natural quality that truly great speakers possess.

That said, distracting gestures--particularly repetitive ones--must be avoided. I have seen it all in my career. I have seen people decide that during the presentation would be a good time to clean their ears, pop a pimple on their arm, or scratch their privates repeatedly. I kid you not.

When in doubt, it's okay to keep your hands at your sides. That is so much better than folding your arms, or clasping your hands either in front or in back of you. Also, you want to avoid gesturing below the waist. You want to guide the eye toward your upper half, not your lower half.

Video recording is the key to fine tuning the natural style of the speaker. When the speaker sees what he or she does when speaking naturally, the video makes any necessary "repair" obvious and fairly simple to change and master. They just need an honest, knowing eye to help guide them to what works best for them.

So when it comes to gestures, don't look for magic tricks. Record yourself doing what comes naturally. Talk it over with a pro, and just polish it up a bit. You should be spending far more time analyzing your audience and putting together a killer message than you do on gesturing. The goal is always to be yourself, at your best. Run away from people who try to remake you, they will lose the real you in the process.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pathos: Employing the Emotional Appeal

Aristotle, in his seminal work Rhetoric, said there are "...three available means of persuasion". Being Greek, he called these ethos, pathos, and logos. Assuming you don't speak Greek, allow me to translate. Ethos is what we might call speaker credibility. Pathos literally means 'the passions" and is generally translated as emotional appeals. Logos, as you can probably guess, refers to the logical appeal.

In today's post I will focus on pathos. Human beings have the capacity for logical behavior but more often than not, our decisions are based on emotion. While we like to believe that we consciously choose our behavioral path based on sound reasoning and rational decision making, very often we are being moved by more vague forces...feelings. Sometimes we call it intuition or a hunch, more often we just act without a whole lot of conscious choice.

A neat video I saw recently outlined six principles which highlight some of the forces at work in driving our behavioral choices. In each case, the principle in question influences the behavior of most people. They work on us as "shortcuts" to reasoned, logical decision making. Undoubtedly those six features can be used by public speakers in a variety of ways.

But how do we appeal specifically to the emotions of our audience members?

One way is to employ the notion of emotional dissonance. When persuading an audience, I call this creating the "cringe moment" where you introduce some aspect of the status quo that is emotionally upsetting. It should be something unpleasant about the situation which is happening or will happen if we don't adopt your proposal.

A key feature of dissonance is that when we experience it, we want it to stop. So you create it when discussing the "problem" then give the audience some way to assuage the unpleasantness by them adopting your "solution". In that way we get them to take the action we desire of them.

Another way to employ emotional appeals is to tell stories. I have written at length about the benefits of storytelling for public speakers, here, here and here. But it is worth noting that whatever the situation you are trying to change is (and persuasion usually involves some change) we need to put a face on it. It may be a human face or the face of a puppy, but we need real-life examples to make us feel something. Tell stories that will move your audience.

And speaking of putting a face on something, one of the most powerful tools in creating emotional appeals are visual aids. Most people waste the potential of PowerPoint by filling their slides with words. Photos and video are what it is best used for. Want to persuade us to stop texting while driving? SHOW US the wreckage photographs of those who insisted that they could drive and text simultaneously. Want us to adopt a pet from a shelter? SHOW US photographs of the lovable furry little creature who will have to be put down because of overcrowded animal shelters. Want to persuade us to travel to Peru? SHOW US photographs of the natural wonders and bustling street life of that beautiful country. Visual aids are for seeing, not reading. The visual image is emotionally compelling in a way that words can't match.

That's not to say that words can't elicit emotion though. Words have connotations--individual felt-meanings--that can elicit powerful emotional responses. We need to be conscious of our word choices and the feelings they create in the guts of our listeners. Real estate professionals have long known this. The property you are trying to sell is a "house", while the property you may buy will be your "home". And of course a small house will be referred to as a "cozy cottage". The government refers to civilians killed in battle as "collateral damage". And of course our Department of Defense was formerly known as the Department of War, despite no real difference in the functioning of that organization. What we call something can make a tremendous difference in the emotional response it evokes.So choose your words wisely, use your thesaurus, for maximum emotional impact.

One final word of caution on emotional appeals. Don't overdo it. People resent it and will shut down on you if you lay it on too thickly. They sense you are manipulating their feelings and will reject both your message and you.

I apologize for the long post today...I could talk about this stuff for hours (a fact my students know all too well!). But used ethically and in moderation, the emotional appeal is a powerful tool for speakers. I encourage you to make special effort to include emotional appeals in your persuasive messages.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Likability: The Speaker's Secret Weapon

As an undergraduate Speech Communication major at St. John's University (NY) many years ago, I came across a little book in the library that did more to aid my understanding of communication than anything I had ever read up to that point. It was titled You Are The Message and was written by Roger Ailes. Ailes was, among other things, a communication consultant to President Ronald Reagan, who was often referred to as "the Great Communicator". I've always thought that Ailes' coaching was at least partially responsible for Reagan earning that moniker.

Politics aside, Ailes has a chapter in the book devoted to the importance of likability--he called it "The Magic Bullet"--for public speakers and communicators in general. The truth of this simple fact has been proven to me time and time again throughout my career. Simply stated, if an audience member likes you, they will forgive nearly any flaws or imperfections in your speech and even your personality.

For some, likability comes naturally--or at least it seems that way. These folks have a manner of being that evokes positive regard from nearly everyone they meet. In fact though, these people just have developed behavioral traits that endear them to others. These are traits that can be developed by anyone. However they must be sincere and genuine or people see right through you.

What makes someone likable? Well, think about the people you know who are most likable. They are authentic, they're not phonies. They probably have similar values to our own, treat people right, listen respectfully, are empathetic, generous in spirit, kind, and have a sense of humor. Heck, who wouldn't like such a person?

In short, they re good people and treat others well. It sounds so simple but being likable takes effort for some people. Some are held back by fear, insecurities, closed-mindedness, and negativity. It is risky to be kind, for instance, because it makes us vulnerable to those who might take advantage of us. So it takes courage to habitually embody the behaviors that people find likable. But I think if someone wants it, he or she can cultivate a manner of being in the world with others that elicits positive regard from those they encounter.

For a nice starting place, try reading this. Just understand that it can't be an act we put on. It stems from a genuine liking of people and a desire to be liked.

The payoff transcends being a good speaker. For the likable nearly everyone they meet is a potential friend and ally. Yet, the likable do not takes advantage of the esteem others hold them in. To abuse the power of being likable makes you less likable.

In my consulting work, I often advise politicians who desire to communicate more effectively. Much of what I coach them in is aimed at making them more likable. We talk about how to handle tough interviews, hostile audience members and the like in an honest and straightforward way, while remaining likable. Because the simple fact is we don't vote for people we don't--at least at some level--like.

I do this because I know that people interpret our message through the lens of how they feel about us. If those feelings are positive they are much more likely to interpret whatever we say positively. Sometimes speakers get so caught up in the facts and figures of their talking points, that they lose sight of what is really our audience feels about us. And, as I said at the outset, if the audience likes us they will overlook and/or forgive our imperfections as speakers.

It is hard for me to overstate the fundamental importance of likability. It is worth your time and effort to cultivate it.

That's all for today my friends.

Be well and speak well. And as always, thank you for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work, see

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What to Wear for your Next Presentation

Appearance matters. We all know this. Heck, we don't seek out ugly people to date, right? Your clothing and overall appearance are part of your message. The wrong clothing, accessory, or hairstyle choice can create a distraction that speaks louder than your words and, fairly or unfairly, turn people off.

It is hard to generalize about the perfect clothing for your speaking engagement because each speaker, occasion, and audience are unique. So ultimately only you can decide what will work for you. But what follows may help you in that decision making process.

One big rule is to avoid distracting clothing or accessory choices. The best choices are generally conservative and nondescript. When all is said and done I want the audience to remember your message, not your outfit. So this is not the time to be a fashion trend-setter.

Those beautiful jingly earrings are so beautiful that audience members may spend half your talk thinking about them--and not focusing on what you are saying. Leave them home.

Certainly if there is an unofficial "uniform" that your audience will be wearing--as is the case in much of corporate America--you probably want to be mindful of that and not stray too far from the norm (unless you are purposefully presenting yourself as an "outsider", which might free you up to break the sartorial rules).

Of course if you happen to be speaking on Dress Down Day, you might vary that strategy. However be careful there too.If your short sleeves reveal tattoos, keep the sleeves...lest we spend your talk enjoying the beautiful artwork rather than your message.

And while I shy away from giving woman fashion advice--I'm just not qualified to speak on the subject!--I heard a good rule of thumb recently that I liked. My colleague Ms. Joan Ali Scocco shared that woman "do not have the right to bare arms". The play on words suggests a radical second amendment position, but is simply good advice. As she suggests to her female students, put on a blazer and you will look "professional". Of course it is important that the blazer isn't over a "Top Ten Thinks I Did in Cancun" tee shirt, but for the most part regardless of what is under the blazer, it will work nicely.

And while on the subject of women's attire, I think it is worth saying that the presentation occasion is not a date. When I tell my college students to "dress professionally" I am often surprised about what young woman consider "professional". Very often I see outfits more suitable for the night club than the board room. Mini skirts, plunging necklines and stiletto heels will create quite an impression, but is that really the impression you want to make?

As for men, I think the choices are easier. A business suit is a business suit. But not all occasions call for a suit. Sometimes you are addressing the cub scouts or a crowd at a rock concert.

I have a simple rule of thumb that I am comfortable with in those non-business suit settings. I try to look a little better than most of my audience. If my audience is in tee shirts and sweats, I would wear a polo shirt and jeans or khakis. If they are in polo shirts, I might wear a button-down shirt. If they are in button-downs, I might put on a tie. You get the idea. This basically insures I'm not under-dressed for the occasion, but also not far too formal.

Again, each occasion is unique and you must choose for yourself what to wear. Be aware though, that our audience makes judgments about us quickly and we want those judgments to be positive ones. So make wise choices that do not detract from the presentation you have worked so hard on.

That's all for now. Be well, speak well, and as always thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Speaking with an Accent

I have often encountered students of public speaking who immediately declare " I want to lose my accent". To these students I generally ask "Why?". Of course they recount the details of others not understanding them in the past. And if understanding the speaker is an issue, then, well, yes, there is an issue. For most though, we can understand them just fine and there is little problem with intelligibility.

It raises the topic, however, of accents in general and how to be the most effective public speaker in a language other than your native tongue.

Intelligibility is key. If we can understand what you are saying--even if it takes an extra moment or two--you are generally okay. If we as an audience can not understand you due to the accent it is a problem and you need specific training in accent reduction and English pronunciation. (Many schools and courses are available for help with this).

Assuming you are not in that latter category, there are specific strategies you can undertake as a public speaker to maximize your effectiveness as a speaker.

First, speak slowly and pause frequently. Your audience needs a little extra time to "translate" your non-standard pronunciation. Depending on your immersion level in the new language you yourself may need that time to encode your ideas into words. Which language do you think in? If you still think in your native tongue, you will need to do your inner translation to find the right words. If you think in English, you need to make a concerted effort to slow down and pause more.

Next consider using visual aids to your advantage. If saying key words is a challenge for you, put them on slides (with definitions if needed). This goes against one of my general axioms for using PowerPoint ("fewer words, more pictures") but is a small accommodation that can help both audience and speaker. Please note that this is not an invitation to put too many words on a slide (avoid full sentences and paragraphs) just a free pass to include hard to pronounce key words on your slides.

Finally, resist the urge to under-articulate and just mumble a word you are not sure of the pronunciation for. Sometimes even native speakers do this when we are not sure how to pronounce a word. Unfortunately it makes a bad situation worse. The best thing to do is to pronounce it properly. When I am uncertain of how to pronounce a word I look to For each word you will see a speaker icon. When you click on it you will hear someone say the word properly.

These are three simple ways to decrease any negative impact of your accent on your message.

Remember though that your accent is also a positive. Your accent announces to the listener that you are an international person and that you speak more than one language.The former means you are bringing the knowledge of multiple cultures to the moment which is a distinct advantage in problem solving and general analysis of issues. In short, an accent communicates that you are smart enough to speak more than one language. For someone like me, who struggled through Spanish for seven years in the New York City public school system, that's pretty impressive!

Be proud of your accent, it signifies that you speak multiple languages, which is more than many people can say.

That's all for today folks. Until we meet again, be well and speak well.

And, as always, thank you for reading!

For more information on Dan Leyes' consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Video Recording a Must

It is 2013 and pretty much everyone has access to video recording equipment in the form of a phone, tablet or laptop. And while taking videos of your dog or cat doing cute stuff might be fun, I have a far better use of this technology. Record yourself practicing and actually giving your speeches.

As we have already established, practicing aloud is a must to being a great speaker. If world class athletes, musicians, and performers practice their craft, it is nothing short of arrogant to believe you don't need to.

And while practicing will help you deliver your message more effectively, seeing yourself from the audience's perspective will give you a whole new outlook on your speaking.

It's a little scary because the camera adds pounds--it's not you, you're beautiful--and doesn't couch its feedback in comforting language. It is stark, honest reality--and it is undeniable.

Video recording is most effective in bringing to our attention the flaws we are not conscious of. This includes repetitive or ineffective gesturing and the dreaded vocalized pauses ("um", "uh"). It is the camera's brutal honesty that gets our attention and inspires us to make the necessary improvements. It is one thing for a speech coach to say "you're saying 'um' too much". It is another for you to have to watch yourself saying "um" 75 times in a five minute talk! It is painful, sobering and embarrassing. But it forces us to improve that flaw, in a hurry.

When you record yourself, ideally you have someone holding the camera so they can adjust to movement, etc. However if you don't have the luxury of someone to hold the camera, rig it up so that it can record you and stand still. Keep it the proper distance away so it can see all of you, from head to toe (because if you are standing oddly or shifting your weight a distracting number of times, you want to see that). However, don't have it so far away that you look like you are at the end of a tunnel and we can't see the finer points of things like facial expressions and such.

Review your video with a critical eye taking note of thing that are within your power to change, and make those changes. It is a little uncomfortable at first (even some Hollywood stars report hating looking at themselves on the screen).

The camera is an incredibly powerful tool for speakers looking to improve. Use it for something more productive than stupid pet tricks!

That's all for today. Be well, speak well and as always, thanks for reading!

Anyone interested in learning more about Dan Leyes and his consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Favorite Links

Today's post will feature some of my favorite website sources related to public speaking as well as just some general sites I find myself using and perusing,

One great source on speech anxiety is the Livestrong site. I have found it to be an excellent one-stop shopping site for reasonably authoritative resources on the topic.

Another wonderful one-stop shopping site is Andrew Dlugan's Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills:  Your Guide to Being a Confident and Effective Speaker.  I can literally spend hours reading this site and it's countless links to good sources.

A personal fave is the work of Alex Rister. She is a professor at Full Sail University and I find that I basically agree with every word she writes. Her work in PowerPoint and visual aids in general is brilliant.

One site I got turned on to via Alex's site is Presentation Zen. Cool thoughtful articles, primarily focused on presentation design, but more often than not a great general read for anyone--especially for those who make their living in front of an audience.

There are a couple of other sites I feel obligated to share just because they have improved my quality of life. They don't deal with public speaking per se, and most of you will probably already know them, but for those who don't I give you Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading and

Ted talks are now a mainstream of intellectual life worldwide. I like to think of it as really smart people talking about smart stuff in ways that pretty much anyone can understand for twenty minutes or less.

And Snopes is my go-to source for debunking those annoying chain emails that some of my friends insist on sending me, as well as for recognizing scams a mile away. Favorite it. You'll be surprised how often you have to go to it to debunk the latest Facebook meme that has everyone in such a snit. Just be careful, people tend to be disappointed when you inform them that the object of their outrage is just a lie.

And of course I would be derelict in my duties if I didn't share with you the most important websites of them all: Semiosphere Consulting, my LinkedIn profile, my Twitter page, and of course my Facebook page.

That's all for today my friends. Be well, speak well, and as always thank you for reading.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Rule of Three

I saw a speaker recently who violated one of the simplest, but most important rules of speech making, the "rule of three".

When giving a speech you should always try to organize your information into three "main points" to cover in the body of your speech. Your main points are simply the major subdivisions of the body of your speech. They are the three aspects of your topic you will be focusing on. The textbooks say anywhere from 2-5 is acceptable and that is true. Two to five is acceptable...but three is ideal.

Getting back to the speaker. She was a FEMA representative talking to a group of business owners in a location that was particularly hard hit by Super-Storm Sandy. Her goal was to share the programs and support that was available to help businesses and homeowners recover from the storm damage. She had about a dozen pamphlets and handouts to provide to us, explaining various programs.

Her choice to organize her talk was to go through and explain each piece of information individually, essentially giving her 12 -15 main points. Of course her available speaking time was short so she would have less than a minute to discuss each one--and if you have any familiarity with FEMA you know it is impossible to explain one of their programs in a minute!

Of course since she was doomed to not have the time to explain all of the programs, she should not even have tried. Rather, had I advised her, I would have suggested she cover three main points. First, the types of programs FEMA offers (not every single program just the general types). Second, the assistance available via the aforementioned types. And third, where to start if you were interested in availing yourself in one of these programs, including what to expect in regards to timelines, etc.

These three points would have set the audience up well to approach her after the presentation with some idea as to the type of program they were interested in and she could have provided the appropriate literature for that person. Instead they got a small taste of 12 or more programs which they could not remember or distinguish and had to explain their whole story to her so she could advise. And as a result the line to speak with her at the end of the program was long and slow moving. She actually, in her small way, added to the complexity and confusion of dealing with FEMA!

This was so unfortunate because she was an attractive, intelligent and well-informed representative. It's just that the structure of her speech was poorly planned. A quick-fix would have allowed her to move through her presentation more gracefully (she was rushed and frustrated by the time constraints prohibiting her from fully explaining each program) and accomplished her goal more effectively and efficiently.

Ironically, when we had gone around the room at the beginning of the program and introduced ourselves and I said I was a public speaking consultant, she asked me to critique her presentation. However, the long, slow moving line to talk to her, and the need for me to get to another engagement prevented us from speaking. I subsequently emailed her and told her I had some valuable, helpful information for her--and a free initial consultation--but my emails were never replied to. I would have offered the advice I wrote about here for free, but...

There is a lesson here. Public speaking help is like a breath mint. If someone offers it, you probably need it. I truly wish I would have had the chance to help this woman. She seemed really nice and extremely competent. Her job is too important to do less than effectively.

Remember the rule of three and your talks will be easier to give, easier to understand, and easier for your audience to remember.

That's all for today folks.

Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes' consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Your Pre-Speech Communication Matters...A Lot

I distinctly remember one of my undergraduate Speech professors, Dr. Barbara Mendoza of St. John's University telling me one day, "Your presentation begins the moment your ass leaves the seat". I was stunned by her use of the word ass as it was completely out of character for this ladylike figure whose charm was considerable and who was unlike anyone I had ever encountered in my blue-collar upbringing. She was the first person I ever met who had a maid!

But her words left an impression, so much so that I still share them with my students nearly 30 years later.

From the minute you rise from your seat and approach the front of the room, you are "on". The audience watches you, sizes you up, and makes judgments before you've ever opened your mouth or begun your presentation. Fairly or unfairly, that's just the way it is.

As such it is important that we send all the right messages, because they set the stage and for all that follows in our actual speech. So here are a few dos and don'ts in those oh-so-important moments before your speech.

Do smile and exude warmth and friendliness. Likability is a powerful force to have going for you. If your audience likes you they will forgive your imperfections (and we all have them). The "halo effect"--the tendency to see only the good in people we hold in positive regard--is a real phenomenon and we should do our best to cultivate it.

Don't engage in negative self talk or self deprecating remarks. Never try to set the expectation bar low with negative predictions about your performance or presentation.

Do know how to work the equipment you will be expecting to use, whether PowerPoint or document camera, or whatever. Incompetence is not the message you want to send. It wastes time, and your audience's time is valuable. Arrive early and learn to use the equipment, don't engage in trial and error on the audience's time.

Don't tell us how nervous you are.

Do pause momentarily and look at your audience before beginning. Take command of the room before beginning. Nervous people want to rush to begin. Poised speakers know that the show doesn't start until they decide it starts.

Finally, start with a genuine attention-getting device not an announcement of your topic. (For more on how to start your speech see this ).

Then do a kick-ass presentation!

Do you have more suggestions? Feel free to add them in the Comments section below.

That's all for today friends. As always, be well, speak well, and thank you for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Practice: Read This Before Your Next Speech!

Nothing confounds me more as a teacher of public speaking than my students' reluctance to practice. As I have said more times than I can count, "Michael Jordan practiced basketball nearly every day of his career, even though he was already the best player in the world". As someone who is admittedly far from the best speaker in the world, what would make you think you can succeed without practicing?

I know, I know. It feels silly speaking to yourself out loud in an empty room (presumably you are not practicing on the public transportation system!). And to this I can only say it feels far worse to be alone in the front of the room struggling to speak clearly and effectively.

In fact, if you are speaking extemporaneously--and you should be--the first run-through is usually a train wreck. And right then you should applaud yourself for having had the good sense to practice. Better a train wreck in the privacy of your own home or office than in front of that audience, right? At this point you should just relax and run through it again. It will get better. And again, it will get better, again.

I always suggest five practice runs. However, if you have the time and feel the need to practice more, do it until you feel supremely confident in your ability to deliver the message.

I would also spend a little extra time on the introduction of your speech. Of course it is your audience's first impression and you want to make a great one, but there is another reason you should be ultra-confident with that first 10-20% of your speech. The research shows that speakers anxiety levels are the highest during that first minute or so of your speech. After that the heart rate, breathing, and adrenalin levels all begin to normalize. So if you can weather that initial physiological storm, it's smooth sailing thereafter.

A couple of tips about practicing:

1. Make sure you practice aloud. While "running it through your head" surely won't hurt you, it is no substitute for running it through your mouth. You do not use the same part of your brain to think thoughts as you do to make your mouth move and say words. Saying the words of your speech out loud strengthens the neural connections you will need to actually give the speech.

2. Break the speech up into chunks to practice, especially if it is a long talk. Five chunks is ideal (one for your intro, one for each of your three main points, and one for your conclusion). Ultimately you want to put them all together and practice from beginning to end, but early on you can just do it in parts.

3. Practice with your PowerPoint if you are using visual aids. Get in the flow of when the slide will change--put notes to yourself on your speaking outline to change slides!

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to "wing it". Trust me, it shows. And the message you are sending is. "I am not as prepared as I could and should be" and that can be interpreted in many ways by audience members, some of them very negatively.

If you practice sufficiently you should do a fine job with your speech. You may not be Michael Jordan just yet, but you will be giving that audience the very best you are capable of, and that's all any reasonable person would ever ask of you.

Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Anyone interested in learning more about Dan Leyes consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Name Change

If you have visited my blog before you probably noticed the new name, Speaking in the Semiosphere.

During some research it came to my attention that there was a blog out there called "Professionally Speaking", and another called "Professionally Speaking..." and since they were in existence before mine I thought it only right that I should change my blog name.

Speaking in the Semiosphere was the obvious choice for a couple of reasons. First, my consulting company is called Semiosphere Consulting and so it was a natural fit. Perhaps more importantly it does give some idea of my theoretical foundation as a communications professor and practitioner.

"Semiosphere" was a term coined by Russian scholar of cultural semiotics Yori Lotman. It is essentially the world of signs in which we dwell. Each person is both consumer and producer of signs. A sign is anything which stands for something else and each moment of our lives we are both taking in and sending out signs. And each time two people encounter each other it is a collision of embodied sign systems, from which two distinct meanings emerge.

It's all quite complicated of course, and I'll spare you the advanced Semiotic theory. However, when I analyze a speech, speaker, or any instance of communication, this is where I am coming from. It is what makes Semiosphere Consulting unique. And it's the insight provided by this unique analytic perspective that people are willing to pay me for. The academic term is semiotic phenomenology or simply Communicology. It is better understood though as simply how people make sense and give meaning to their surroundings (including the messages being sent by others). Mostly I apply this to public speaking but it can be applied to any act(s) of communication.

If you would like to read more about it, one of my mentors Dr. Richard Lanigan maintains a site for the International Communicology Institute and lays the philosophical groundwork in this brief essay.

The content of the blog will not change dramatically, as I will continue to record my thoughts about public speaking and communication as always.

Be well, speak well, and as always, thank you for reading.

If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes consulting work visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Would you trust billionaire Warren Buffett to give you financial advice? Would you trust Bernie Madoff's suggestions for investing your life savings? How about trusting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to teach you about the origins of Facebook? Would you trust Lindsay Lohan to lay out the plan for the United States' response to North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons? How about Robert Deniro's advice on acting?

Your answers to these questions are driven largely by the speaker's credibility--or lack thereof.

Credibility is trust. It involves trust in your competence (you know what you are talking about) and your character (you wouldn't lie to me about this and are basically a good, trustworthy person).

Credibility can be difficult to establish and easy to lose. It is an essential prerequisite to persuasion of any kind. This is true in speeches and interpersonal dealings of all kinds. As such, it deserves our full attention as speakers and people in general as we strive to exert influence on others.

Your credibility depends on the listener's perception of you. That word perception is really important here. Your credibility is a perception individuals have of you, it is not necessarily true or accurate. But for the listener his or her perception is reality. So if an audience member believes (perceives) that you don't know what you are talking about, you don't--to them anyway. If they think you are lying, you are lying (in their eyes). So it is essential that we mange perception to enhance others' views of us.

First let's talk about competence. Again, the goal is to convince the members of the audience that you are a trustworthy source of information because you know your topic and know it well. How do we do this? You might mention your credentials in the subject area, such as your job title, degrees in the subject, or specialized training you have. You might mention your years of successfully working in this field or research you have done in the area--maybe even citing some specific fact(s) from that research. However you do it, you want your audience to perceive you as being well-informed on the topic at hand.

And while it does not necessarily directly relate to your knowledge in the field, it is important that your delivery be as confident and polished as possible. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you fumble and bumble your way through the presentation some audience members may (wrongly) infer that you don't know what you are talking about simply because you don't deliver it well. So a poor delivery can hurt your credibility and a strong delivery can help it.

Establishing your competence in the subject matter is actually pretty straightforward and relatively simple to establish for most audience members. The trickier challenge is to establish that you are a person of good character, someone I can trust to not steer me wrong or manipulate me for your personal gain.

This raises the question, "Whom do we trust?".

We tend to trust people who share our values, beliefs, and attitudes. Why is this true? Because we are right. Everybody is right in their own mind...about everything. What do you think of the job the president is doing? It doesn't matter, you are right. If you think he is doing a great job, you are right and you know it. If you think he is doing a lousy job, you are right and you know it. It doesn't matter what you believe, you are right--in your own mind anyway.  What is your opinion of rap music? it doesn't matter. Whatever your opinion, you know you are right, right? Everyone believes they are right about everything. We simply don't hold beliefs we think are wrong. Sometimes we find out we were wrong and change our beliefs, but guess what? then we are right again!

And because WE are right, who else is right? People who agree with us, namely people who share our values, attitudes and beliefs.

Thus, if I want you to trust me I need to establish that you and I are kind of alike. I mean obviously we are different. We are all unique and have traveled a unique path bringing us to this moment. But to the degree that I can establish commonality, I can get you to identify with me.  And maybe, just maybe, I can get you to see me as being like you, and therefore worthy of your trust.

But how do we do this? We need to establish commonality. One way to think about it is to consider the past, present, and future (I use these categories because together they account for everything and anything because you can literally use anything and everything in the world to potentially establish commonality).

So for instance if I can recount some experience from childhood that audience members can relate to I can establish a common past. And in that moment, consciously or unconsciously, you say "wow, he's a little like me...I had that experience too...we have similar childhood experiences" and I become a little bit more trustworthy in that moment.

Or maybe it's a common present. When I say something like "I'll try to make this as brief as possible, I know we all have a desk full of work waiting for us" I establish that we are all in the same (overworked) boat and our time is limited and valuable. I "get it", and in doing so demonstrate that I share your plight. Then-President Clinton made great use of the phrase "I feel your pain" to establish commonality with one of his audience members (the same man would eventually destroy his credibility in the eyes of many with his unscrupulous behavior).

Or maybe it's a common future. When I talk about our desires for a happy and successful future, my audience can relate to me because we all want a happy and successful future.

This is why it is so important to put some of yourself into every presentation. If we can see a little of ourselves in you we are more likely to trust you. This can be quite subtle at times but still effective as we can relate to people on many levels. It is also why audience analysis is so important. Think about your audience and build into your speech bits that they should be able to relate to.

Ultimately though, your credibility will be tied to your reputation. So if you want to be perceived as competent, be competent. If you want to be perceived as a good person, be a good person. There is a risk in everything I've written today that we can say all the right things, manipulating the perception of our audience members with empty rhetoric. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk. If you live your life the right way, it can never come back to bite you on the bottom. A fact former President Clinton learned the hard way.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes' consulting work see the Semiosphere Consulting webpage

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The All-Important First Minute

You hit the stage (or the conference room, or the classroom, or the pulpit) and all eyes focus in on you. The audience, who were mentally somewhere else just a moment ago, one by one begin to watch and wonder "what will this person say to me?". They may be charitably attentive and hope for the best, or they may be cynically imploring "Please don't waste my valuable time", presumably as so many prior speakers have done.

You generally have a minute or so--sometimes less--before people start drawing conclusions about the quality and value of your presentation.

Many fail to capitalize on that first minute and as a result have to hope they can win you over later in the speech. But if you get off to a great start, you're winning them over from the get-go.

And so today I will talk a little bit about your speech introduction. It's that first 10-20% of your total speaking time. For that 5 minute talk it's that first 30 seconds to a minute. (If you have the luxury of a 50 minute talk, obviously, it would be longer and you have more time to develop it).

A good Intro has three parts: the hook, the promise, and the road map. Allow me to explain.

As I mentioned, prior to your speech your audience is somewhere else mentally.  They're talking with other audience members, looking at their schedule on their IPhone, or thinking about all the things they could and should be doing instead of waiting for you to begin your talk. Therefore it is important to pull the focus of their attention on to you.

Here's how not to do it. "I'm here today to talk about _________". Never begin by announcing your topic because you give your audience an "opt-out moment" and believe me they will opt out and go back to thinking of all the things they could be doing if they didn't have to be here listening to this topic that they don't fully understand yet and therefore don't see the benefit of listening to. The problem is you can't tell them the topic until you have first made "the promise"...but I am getting ahead of myself.

Start your speech with a story ( for more on storytelling see this or this). It may have to be a short story, of 30-45 seconds, but start with a story. It can be the story of how you came to speak in front of this particular group, the story of the humorous hotel clerk last night, the story of how your daughter had a birthday party last week and what a fiasco of fun it was. If you can directly tie the story in to your topic or the occasion that's great. But even if it doesn't, the story ends with you being here today to talk about something really important. For instance you might say, "Now I know, you didn't come here today to hear about my daughter's birthday party, we're here to learn how to sell more widgets and increase revenue". As long as the story is a brief one, the audience will forgive the non-topical start (if you must). The important thing is you've captured their attention. They are no longer working on their schedule or talking to the person next to them. When someone starts a story, it's almost impossible not to get caught up in the plot and wonder where it is going. Mission have their attention, and that is the goal of the hook.

The promise must come next (or if you're creative and your topic and story align the right way you have built it in to the story itself and in that way kill two birds with one'll understand this better in a minute). The promise is where you give them a reason or motivation to listen to your talk. This is where you tell them how the information you are sharing with them today will benefit them. There is presumably some value to the audience in what you are sharing with them (if there is not then you are wasting their time and need to reexamine your motives for speaking!). Come right out and tell them this will help them in some way. Depending on the topic and context it could be anything from increasing the bottom line, to better mental or physical health, to improving communication with their loved ones. As an audience member, How is my life better as a result of learning/knowing what you are about to teach/tell me? This sometimes takes a lot of thought and some people have difficulty seeing this, but it is essential. For without it your audience has no motivation to listen to you. What can they do, post-speech, that they couldn't do pre-speech? Tell them.

The promise though, is two-fold. Part of the promise is that the audience will benefit from your talk. The other part is that you know what you're talking about and can be trusted. This is your credibility. I will be writing an entire blog about credibility soon, but for now let's just say you need to establish your expertise on the topic and your general trustworthiness (both on the topic and as a person of good character). That's why the story about your daughter's birthday party is not without value...any person who loves their child enough to not only throw a great party but be so happy about it to come in and tell a room full of strangers about it, is probably a pretty good egg, no? People can relate, and if they can relate to you they like and trust you. Credibility is established--as long as they also believe you know what you are talking about!

Now sometimes your story/hook has the promise built into it. If you tell the story of how you first got involved with this topic and the change it's made in your life and how you're here to share those benefits with the audience today, you have built the promise into the story. This is ideal when you don't have a lot of time to develop your intro.

The last thing you need to set up your speech and prepare the audience for what is to follow is your road map. This is where you explicitly state your topic and lay out what the main points you will be covering in your speech are. It's okay to say "Today I will be talking about ________" now because you have already made the promise, and only foolish audience members would opt-out if there is real value to be gained by listening. And the last line of your intro should always be that preview of main points. "So in order to better understand (topic) today we're going to discuss ________, ___________, and _________. (And you should have three main points, not one or eight...another topic for another blog entry!).

The road map is essential to help your audience follow along and gives them a mental checklist of what you are covering, which will help them remember your message. Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car when you don't know where they're going? Well you should stop being a stalker! Just teasing. If you have, you know it is difficult and stressful. You want to make things easy for your audience, not difficult. And you want it to be a pleasant experience, not stressful  So tell them where you are going in your speech and they will happily follow along.

Now you have captured their attention with your hook, given them motivation to listen and reason to trust you with the promise, and told them where we are going together with the road map. You are on your way to a great talk!

That's all for today. Be well and speak well. And as always, thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Being Interesting, The Ultimate Challenge

If you ask most people what they dread as a listener or as an audience member they will quickly mention being on the receiving end of a boring presentation. And I think as speakers one of the things we most fear is that our audience will find us boring and tune us out.

But what is a speaker to do? How can we ensure that we are not boring our audience?

Many years ago I was asked by the American Forensics Association to present a workshop on "Creating Interesting Informative and Persuasive Speeches". Today I would like to share what I talked about that day.

First, I think interesting talks start with a topic you find interesting, This really is an essential aspect of an interesting end product. If you are given a choice about what to speak about, choose something you are interested in and your challenge will be so much easier. Audiences can tell when we love our topic. There is an inner enthusiasm that shines through in nearly every word.

Unfortunately sometimes our topic is thrust upon us with little regard for our personal interests, such as having to explain a new software program to our co-workers, or the latest federal regulations regarding our line of work. In cases like these it is essential to identify one or more "benefits of knowing" this new information. Will it make our work easier in the long run? Will it save us money or increase profit (which may open the door for those long awaited wage increases!)? Will it make us healthier? Wealthier? or Wiser? What is in it for the learner? Once you identify that this is valuable information at some level, it should enhance your interest in it.

Or perhaps it is just the speaking opportunity itself that has value. This will enhance your career, enhance your status in the eyes of your co-workers or in the community, or provide some economic opportunity. All of these are factors that should raise your interest level in giving this talk.

So you have established that your topic or speaking situation is something that interests you, great. But how do you make it interesting for an audience? Well, one essential is to make sure THEY know the "benefit of knowing" because this is a reason to listen. It motivates the audience's interest in what you are talking about. So early in your speech--right after your attention-getter--give them the reason to listen in the form of the benefits of learning/knowing what you will be sharing with them.

Beyond that though, try to fill your talk with interesting information. There is probably ten times more information on your topic available to you than you have you have time to cover. This puts you in a good position, as you can cherry pick all the interesting bits of info. In this way all the information in your speech is relatively interesting.

So at this point you have an interesting topic and interesting information to share, but that does not remotely guarantee that your presentation will be interesting because you still have to deliver it. A poor speaker can ruin even the most interesting information!

In fact I once had to attend two workshops on the same day. One was on Sexual Harassment, the other on FERPA (the Federal Education Respect for Provacy Act  it's the academic version of HIPPA laws, which limit who your doctor can share your personal medical info with). Which do you think would be more interesting? Sex, right? Wrong. The Sexual Harassment workshop was poorly done and dry as toast. I could barely stay awake. The FERPA presentation on the other hand was engaging, thought-provoking, and oh so interesting. The difference was all in the delivery.

And so how do you make your delivery interesting? First, avoid reading to your audience! Speak extemporaneously (a big word that simply means speaking from limited notes containing the ideas you will talk about NOT the words you are going to say). Speaking extemporaneously will keep you natural and conversational, which is the goal.

Furthermore use PowerPoint, or whatever visual aid you use, well. Fewer words and more pictures for starters. And since I have already written on how to use PowerPoint more effectively, you can read it HERE.

And last, but not anywhere remotely near least, tell stories. Audiences love stories and find them interesting. When you hear a story begin it is almost impossible to not listen intently because we naturally become curious about what will happen to the characters in the story. For more on storytelling for public speakers read this and this.

And that's about it for today. Start with an interesting topic, include interesting information, deliver it in an interesting manner, use stories, and you will be interesting in front of that audience. I guarantee it!

Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Communication as Possibility

Many years ago, as an undergraduate student studying with Dr. John Diekman at St. John's University, I was introduced to the idea of communication as possibility. It was one of those life-changing concepts that education, at its best, provides us.

Dr Diekman, a brilliant lecturer, introduced the idea by contrasting it with the notion of "communication as currency". As currency, communication is something that goes back and forth, a means of exchange between people. Thinking about communication as possibility, on the other hand, is quite a different matter. It is built on several premises, which together allow us to see communication in a unique way.

First, we live in a "process world". As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, all reality is change...everything is a process. There are no "things" in our world, as everything is a process. At the molecular and sub-molecular levels, everything is moving, changing. We cannot see these with the naked eye, but our scientific friends with powerful microscopes assure us that everything is changing, all the time.

Not the least of these changing bodies are our own. People are processes, as many of the cells that made up my body yesterday are now dead, as new ones emerge. Psychologically as well, I am not the same person I was yesterday, as I have had numerous experiences, conversations, and so forth that literally make me a different person than I was yesterday.

Second, once we accept that we live in a process world we can begin to understand that expression is a creative act. In this ever changing reality I bring something into being (the definition of creation) every time I open my mouth and speak, as well as with every nonverbal expression. And insofar as others are doing the same we are together creating our shared world through every communicative act we engage in. That simple "hello" uttered to a stranger creates the potential for a relationship should the stranger respond in kind. Together we have created that possibility.

And this brings me to my third premise, the notion of choice or free will. The French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre asserted that human beings are "condemned to choose". All meaningful behavior involves a choice. As communicators we choose how we express ourselves and we choose how we interpret the world around us. What happens to us we have no control over, but how we respond to it is a choice.

And so when you take these three ideas together we live in a process world where each moment is a new reality which has never existed before in the history of the universe. Within that context,we are making choices both in what we bring into the world and how we give meaning to that which we experience at the hands of others. And those choices are creative ones, bringing into being that which did not exist before.

And because we are free to think and choose and bring our ideas into being, communication is possibility. What can be, is what is possible. Is world peace possible? If everyone made the choice to stop fighting, to stop hating, to forgive and understand and dare to bet it is. Is it possible for you to make a million dollars? Think and say the right things to the right people and choose bet it is.

When we reconsider communication as possibility we see that anything is possible if we make the right choices, inspire similar choices in others, and so forth. We can bring things into being by thinking and speaking. All great advances in history begin with an idea, but then that idea is shared, it is communicated to another and then the causal wheels are set in motion.

If we can think it and speak it it is possible!

That's all for today, Until next time be well, speak well, and as always, thank you for reading,

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Listening is Sacred

I have been writing about listening for a week or so now, and somehow I don't think I've really captured its importance. Yes it is a practical skill that can help you immeasurably in your job, your schooling, and your relationships, but it runs deeper than that. Listening to someone--really listening--is a sacred act.

When we really listen to someone, driven by a sincere desire to understand them, it is like we open up our soul and allow them to write on it. Communication is irreversible. We can't "un-hear" that which we have heard. It becomes a part of us and our perceptual process going forward. This can be kind of a scary thought. Listening makes us vulnerable.

When I open myself up to you, it is a leap of faith that what you are going to tell me will not only be true, but that you won't hurt me terribly. For there are things that you could say that could wound me to the core. So listening involves a deep sense of trust.

The twentieth century theologian and philosopher Martin Buber spoke of the "I-It" orientation and contrasted it with the "I-Thou" orientation. These are two very different ways of looking at, and dealing with, other people.

Someone working from an I-It orientation sees other people as things, to be used for their personal gain and discarded when finished with them We have all encountered these people in our lives. Phony friends who use us, bosses who take advantage of us, lovers who disappear with the morning light never to be heard from again. These folks get what they want and then discard us from their lives.

An I-Thou orientation, in contrast, is a very different way of perceiving the people in our lives. That word "thou" has quasi-spiritual connotations. The word simply means "you" but "thou" means so much more than the word you. Buber recognized that some people look at other human beings and see something Divine. This Divinity has nothing to do with the external trappings like money, possessions, or looks. It is a simple fact of your humanity. As a human being you are a wonderful creature, endowed with the qualities of your creator, and capable of spiritual transcendence. When we look at another with an I-Thou orientation we see that person in all their glory--even if they are dressed in rags.

As listeners we can do it with an I-It orientation ("what can I get from this person to improve my own lot in life?") or with an I-Thou orientation ("How can I help this fellow Child of God standing before me?"). At its best listening is closer to the latter than the former. Listening is a great gift we give another. When we stop what we are doing, look at the speaker, set aside our preconceived judgments, offer honest feedback, ask questions and really hear what they are saying we are engaging in something Divine.

The word "communication" comes from the Latin "communis", meaning "to be as one". When we really listen we are joined as one. We are communicating in the truest sense of the word.

That's all for today. Sorry to get deep on you. I only hope you get it. Listening is more than an effective behavior, it is a Sacred act. My life has been blessed because I take the time to listen. Try it for yourself and you will know what I mean.

Until next time, be well and speak well. And as always, thank you for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Friday, April 19, 2013

9 Tips for Being a Better Listener

There is an old saying to the effect that God gave us two ears and one mouth because we should listen more and talk less.

In today's post I will share several simple tips for being a better listener. Individually, they are small behavioral changes. Collectively they will improve your listening immeasurably. For the most part they are simple and easily done. However, they are habitual ways of being with others and so old habits must be broken and new ones formed to make you consistently a better listener.

1. First, stop talking! If you are talking you are not listening. You are too busy trying to encode messages to put your full energy into decoding what your interlocutor is saying.

2. And in a related behavior, don't interrupt. Let the person finish the thought and be sure you understand it before you interject.

3. Avoid the temptation to spend your mental energy formulating what you are going to say next while the other person is still talking. If you are silently planning what you will say, you are not fully engaged in listening.

4. We must also avoid prejudging the person and the message before we have heard and understood both. Sometimes we take one look at someone and believe we know them and their views based on their appearance. We form opinions about people before they have even opened their mouths, based upon their manner of dress, hairstyle, tattoos, the quality of their footwear, and so on. We make an inferential leap from appearance to beliefs about attitudes and viewpoints that very well may miss the mark. At best they are presumptuous, and at worst just flat out wrong. The problem is those preconceived notions become the lens or context through which we see the other person and what they have to say and color our understanding of the message, distorting it to fit into our preconceptions.

5, One very simple thing we can do to be a better listener is simply to look at the speaker. We are surrounded by potential distractions and where the eyes go, the mind follows. This is particularly true when we are an audience member in a public speaking situation. I know that as a student with Attention Deficit Disorder, before such a term was popular, I was a classic underachiever because I was paying attention to everything going on around me--except the teacher! When I got to college, I knew I had this problem so I made a conscious effort to sustain my eye contact with the teacher. I zeroed in on instructors with all my might. And a funny thing happened; I went from being a C+ student to an A student. I didn't get smarter in college, and the work didn't get easier. I simply weeded out all the environmental distractions by focusing my vision on the professor exclusively.

6. We must also be vigilant in avoiding non-listening behaviors when someone is talking to us. If we are watching the game on TV, texting, perusing a magazine, or doing anything else that requires mental focus, we are not listening effectively. Our energy and attention is on something else and at best we are missing the non-verbal part of the message (which many believe is the most important dimension of the message). We are in essence saying to the person speaking to us "this other thing is equally or more important right now than you are"...a terrible message to send to our kids, significant other, or anyone really.

7. Good listeners are also able to empathize with the speaker. Put yourself in the other person's shoes for a moment and see the world through their eyes. Sometimes this is difficult--especially when we think we disagree with what they are saying. But if we want to truly understand someone's point of view, it is essential. The ability to empathize is an essential feature of emotional intelligence and resolving conflict.People who have a hard time empathizing, have a hard time with people in general.

8, We must also work to deliver non-verbal feedback. Good listeners let you know they are with you--and when you have lost them. Head nods, responsive facial expressions, small sounds ("hmmm", "uh huh", "right") all let the speaker know we are following along their train of thought. But the most valuable feedback we can provide is when we DON'T understand, are lost or confused. People want to be understood. Hell, we marry the person in this world who really understands us, right? We do them a tremendous service when we let them know we do not understand them or are lost. If you have ever talked to a stone-faced individual, you know how uncomfortable it is. It is disconcerting to not receive nonverbal feedback, and it affects how we continue or if we continue at all. A lack of feedback says "I don't care" and squelches communication.

9 Another good listening behavior is to ask questions. Good listeners ask questions for clarification, additional information and the like. Good listeners want to make sure they understand you and your message in its entirety so they ask for additional information, contextual information and so on. I once worked as a bartender and was pretty successful at it. The secret to my success was to ask questions! "How was your day?" "How's the family?" "What do you do for a living?". Ask a few questions and then just let them talk. They all said I was a great bartender, but all I really did was listen to them and fill their glass...come to think of it I was a great bartender!

These are some simple things that anyone can do to be a better listener. Try them. I promise you will get results that bring you closer to the people in your life. You will better understand your children, your spouse, your co-workers, if you simply take the time to listen to them.

I have more to say though, about listening and will try to wrap this all up this weekend.

Until then, be well and speak well. And as always, thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Listening is a Life-Changer

Listening is the most under-appreciated communication skill.  The research shows that listening is the single most important communication skill in professional, academic, and personal life. In fact, many marriage counselors report that the number one source of dissatisfaction in relationships is not money, the kids, or work. It’s listening. As in “my partner just doesn't listen to me”.

The good news is that listening is a skill that can be learned. It will take effort, and perhaps the cost of a book or time spent with a communications expert, but it is time, effort, and money well spent, as the results can transform our careers, our relationships, and our lives.

One of the problems is that for most people hearing equals listening. However, hearing is just one small part of the listening process. Hearing is a passive process. You don’t have to do anything to hear someone. Listening, on the other hand is an active and sometimes difficult behavior. We need to work at it. As a college professor, for instance, I know that all my students can hear me. How many are listening—really listening—is another story. And the degree to which they are actively listening will be reflected in their performance on tests and other assignments. Those who are not listening effectively literally do not “get it”. Though they are physically present, they are somewhere else psychologically.

Why is listening so difficult though? There are dozens of reasons, including multiple kinds of distractions (environmental, psychological, and physical), topics of conversation we have no interest in, boring people, thick accents, unpleasant voices, and points of view we strongly disagree with to name just a few. I would add one other thing to our list…a lack of training.

As adults we survived years of schooling in every field under the sun, but have you ever been taught how to listen well? Most of us learned our listening skills by watching our parents, or whoever we grew up around. And if they were good listeners we have probably become good listeners by vicarious learning. But if our parents were poor listeners, we have probably become poor listeners too. It’s not a moral flaw, just the result of following poor role models.

For that reason many of us could use a lesson in listening. We need to learn what “listening” means, beyond just hearing, and we need to learn how to do it better. Limitations of time and space preclude me from doing that here today, but over the next few days I will share some specific tips on how to be a better listener.

And while learning specific tips for listening more effectively is great, ultimately you have to really want to be a better listener. The late Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says it best I think. “Listening is the sincere desire to understand another”. It is a desire. It comes from within. And for anyone who comes to understand the benefits of good listening, the desire should follow naturally.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Motivating Action Based on Needs

One of the most natural things in the world is to take action on a need. If thirst kicks in--the need for water--we take a drink. If we need to release fluids (perhaps after too much water!) we go to the bathroom. In fact, Abraham Maslow theorized that most of our behavior is need based, i.e., just about everything we do fulfills a need of some sort. And as everyone who has ever taken an Intro to Psychology course knows, his famous "Hierarchy of Needs" systematically categorizes these needs.

However, as Maslow noted in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, some needs are more powerful than others and must be met before higher order needs kick in. So the need for breathable air or drinkable water will be more powerful than our need to feel good about ourselves, because they are survival needs.

The need I've been thinking about a lot lately is the need for communication training. Since starting my consulting company I have become acutely aware of potential clients' need for help, especially in public speaking and listening. When I first started out I was taking different approaches to marketing my services, Sometimes the message was "you are pretty good now, but could be great with my help". And one time it was as strong as "I witnessed your sales presentation last night and it was dreadful, for the sake of your bottom line, PLEASE let me help you".

Unfortunately for both of us, neither approach motivated them to avail themselves of my services. Especially in the latter case, the need is clearly evident--to me anyway. But how could I get them to feel the need to a degree that it will motivate action? Many of you who offer a good or service might struggle with the same question.

I have found the answer lies in what I teach my students about persuasion and it is two-fold. First, get them to FEEL something by creating psychological dissonance, and second appeal to multiple layers of needs.

The term dissonance comes form music and refers to notes that are not in harmony to each other. If you have ever heard that one voice in the choir that couldn't hit the proper notes, you know it is an unpleasant listening experience. You literally cringe at the cacophonous sounds. Psychologically, dissonance refers to that strong feeling that a particular situation is disturbingly not right. Seeing a starving child on television while you chomp away on a pizza, or a report of a child suffering with terminal cancer would cause dissonance.

In the case of the bad sales pitch above, clearly my blunt honesty about the lack of quality in their presentation was insufficient. Perhaps a video of a portion of it would have been more powerfully undeniable. Video is starkly honest, which is why it is a staple of my training sessions. Quite honestly people often think that they have been an effective public speaker if they have managed to not poop their pants. The video forces them to hold themselves to a higher standard,

You see the thing about dissonance is it will motivate us to action. It is so unpleasant that we will usually do something to make it stop. That may mean writing the check to help feed the starving child, or more likely simply changing the channel. But we do something. In my case I hope that it means securing my services.

Second, rather than just appealing to one of the levels of Maslow's Hierarchy, it is better to appeal to several, if not all of them if you can. So not only is the "bottom line" appeal important, but also safety and security ("this may save your job") as well as the need for belonging (" imagine being one of your companies top producers, being among the best in sales, month after month"). The esteem needs can also be used by stressing how good the client will feel about him/herself when she is closing deal after deal, and how great it will feel to have the respect and confidence of their superiors, etc. Even the need to Self Actualize can be appealed to as we assure the potential client this will help fulfill his or her potential not only professionally, but personally.

So there you have it. We know our potential clients have needs, and that those needs drive behavior. We just need to really use them to motivate the action we want them to take. Play around with these ideas and see if they can help your sales pitch.

Be well and speak well.

And as always, thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.