Monday, March 4, 2013

As we speak: How to make your point and have it stick

As we speak: How to make your point and have it stick
By Peter Meyers and Shann Nix

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

This is an good book! The authors have even changed the traditional speech parts from introduction, body, and conclusion to "Ramp," "Road map" (forecasting what is to come), "Three PoDs" (points of discovery), Q&A, and Dessert. Instead of organization and outlining, the authors use the word architecture. I was pleased to see that these were the only major changes in vocabulary. The changes work fine, but, being a traditionalist, I’m not certain they add a great deal to learning how to communicate effectively.

The biggest disappointment I have with this book is the lack of an index. For example, I was looking for information on transitions, but could not find it. I thought it might be covered under the topic "architecture," but once having read about "architecture," early in the book, it was nearly impossible to get back to that section without an index to guide me.

What is especially outstanding is the large number of examples included throughout the book. The book, Public Speaking Rules: All You Need for a Great Speech, for example, offers a straightforward approach to the same topic, and like the book, The Elements of Style (which is a straightforward approach to the use of grammar and language) the book Public Speaking Rules provides the essential nuts and bolts of effective public speaking without the heavy use of examples. These two books (in this paragraph) get to the point directly and effectively. The question comes down to, how much information you need to get you to where you want to be — an effective speaker/communicator?

Incidentally, there are a large number of examples that can only come from an author’s personal experience. Meyers has a wonderful, broad, and useful background. The back flyleaf says he is "An acclaimed actor and theater director . . . currently teaches performance and leadership skills at Stanford University, Esalen Institute, and IMD-International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland." In addition to this, he is the founder of a consulting group.

The information here is easily accessible and well-presented. The authors write well. The blend of examples and advice is smooth. The specific suggestions are on target and useful.

I was intrigued by their "performance preparation pattern," and I think their inclusion of an audio exercise on their downloadable package that is designed to "put you into an ideal performance state" is an admirable addition to the book; however, I am always concerned when delivery is taught in a step-by-step manner (e.g., "1. Posture, 2. Breathe, 3. Face, 4. Movement, and 5. Gesture") I have always believed that the best policy with respect to delivery is twofold: 1) let it be natural — a natural and easy outgrowth of a person’s personality and mannerisms, and 2) let it be motivated by the ideas you are sharing.

Overall, the "Notes" section of the book was virtually useless. There were a large number of secondary sources, but there was no primary research cited of any kind. I wondered, for example, where the idea, "Eighteen minutes is the magic number," came from. That is, "Don’t talk for longer than that!" was the admonition, and the next sentence read, "Research shows that adult learners can stay tuned in to a lecture for no more than eighteen minutes before there’s a significant drop-off in attention" (p. 215). The research may very well make this point, however, that research is never footnoted, cited, or referenced in any way. (I had never heard of it before!)

The "Bibliography" used in this book does not include books used in the development of the book. Many have no use in this regard. No, the books cited in the "Bibliography" are those the authors’ have "found constructive, inspiring, and influential, from a variety of disciplines" (p. 273). I have seldom heard of a bibliography provided solely for these reasons. Usually, it is tied to the development of the ideas in the book itself.

You might be interested to know that the book is divided into three major parts: Content, Delivery, and State. And where would you suppose that writers on the art of effective communication might get most of their ideas on "State"? I could not make a guess, but I read this in the "Notes" section, "We have drawn heavily on the work of Anthony Robbins, the world’s great expert on state and how to control it" (p. 270). I’m sorry, but this comment (for me) diminishes the shine of the authors.

If you want insight into the work of motivational guru Tony Robbins, please read Barbara Ehrenreich’s wonderful and insightful book, Bright-Sided. In Kerry Howley’s review of her book , Howley writes, "In Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, she [Ehrenreich] accuses positivity-freaks of corrupting the media, infiltrating medical science, perverting religion, and destroying the economy. She believes that life coaches and their ilk discourage critical thinking among credulous Americans."

Ehrenreich, talking specifically of Tony Robbins and others of his ilk (from Kerry Howley’s review, "Life Coaches are the Root of All Evil,") writes, "In turning the United States into a 24-hour pep rally, charges Ehrenreich, these professional cheerleaders have all but drowned out downers like ‘realism’ and ‘rationality.’ Their followers are trained to dismiss bad news rather than assimilate or reflect upon its importance. Motivators counsel an upbeat ignorance." These authors must plead guilty to Ehrenreich’s charge.

Again, this is a good book. Any book designed to offer suggestions to help people become more effective communicators should be given some respect. Having written ten editions of a beginning college textbook, Communicating Effectively (McGraw-Hill, 2012), and currently working on an eleventh, I appreciate the challenge (of helping people become more effective communicators). With the exception of their dependence on Tony Robbins and the promulgation of his techniques, I think the ideas of the authors of this book are substantive and worth consideration. I give it three stars out of five. The insights offered are not revolutionary or particularly new, but they should be helpful.

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