Have a minute to chat? Matt Abrahams and I sure do. It’s always a pleasure having experts like him on the show to discuss big issues that impact so many of us. Today, we’re talking about the power of conversation and how it can be mastered and leveraged to your advantage as a creator. Five key teachings have been condensed for your convenience below.
1. Abolish Speaking Anxiety
Palms sweaty? Knees weak? Arms heavy? Vomit on your sweater already? Chances are that you have speaking anxiety. And if so, you’re far from alone. From B-Rabbit to Joe Biden, people from all walks of life have had trouble with their speech at some point. In the case of the President, it was a diagnosable speech impediment that could be treated. For Eminem, it was just a matter of being booed off stage a couple of times to ultimately rise back up.
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to speaking anxiety. What works for someone else may not work for you, and what helps you conquer your fear might be completely different from the next person. That said, Matt has some helpful tips.
- Hold something cold. Just like hot coffee can have a stimulating effect on the early-morning brain, cold compresses can bring high-flying minds back to earth.
- Breathe deeply. We all know that deep breathing can help settle the nerves, but Matt reminds us it’s actually the exhale that is doing all the work. So make sure your exhale is at least twice the length of your inhale 2-3 times and you’ll be on your way soothe you nervous system.
- Get present minded. What can you do to stop worry about the future and simply be in this moment. Matt suggests a few techniques often harnessed by top performing athletes such as listening to your favorite song or playlist to get into the zone, moving your body to release energy, or even counting backwards by 17.
Whatever approach works, Matt highly recommends using it as part of a greater anxiety management plan to help you feel more confident when speaking.
2. Small Talk to Build Relationships
Small talk. We all know what it is. We all hate it. Yet for whatever reason, social conventions state that we have to make it when meeting a new person.
Small talk is an important part of any relationship, especially business relationships. Even the most professional and successful people have had to make small talk and build relationships with their colleagues or customers in order to get ahead.
The key to mastering small talk is, what Matt calls, conversational hacky sack where your whole goal is to keep the conversation going. Asking questions is a great way to engage with someone you don’t know, and by doing so, you’re immediately opening the door for follow-ups. Studies have shown that focusing 2/3 of the conversation on the person and sharing your own information the other 1/3 helps keep things moving.
For conversation starters, Matt suggests the framework “What, So what, Now what”. For example, if you are at an art gallery opening, you might ask “What brings you here?”, “So what do you like about this painting?”, “Are you planning on seeing this artist elsewhere?”
3. Master the Art of the Elevator Pitch
The arts of deal-making and negotiation are important, but learning them is pointless if you don’t know how to get your foot in the door. That’s what an elevator pitch is for.
Of course, most of us are already well aware of the term. Being in the creative field means being able to communicate world-changing ideas at the drop of a hat, to anyone who’s willing to help share them. But doing it well is another story.
For many, it’s hard to muster up the confidence to even talk to a stranger, let alone tell them why they should invest their time and money into you. Internally, we worry about all sorts of scenarios and things that might go wrong.
For a quick conversation, Matt suggests reusing the “What, so what, now what” framework to explain anything you’re working on. What it is, the benefits or why, and your next steps. However if you need something a little bit more pitch worthy, he introduces “What if you could, so that, for example, but that’s not all” as a key structure to not just explain, but to convince.
- What if you could [opportunity]
- So that [benefit]
- For example … [example of value you will get]
- But that’s not all [benefit]
During our conversation, Matt pitched his podcast Think Faster, Talk Smarter using the framework:
“What if you could learn important, valuable, immediately useful communication skills so that you could improve how you come across in any situation, be it a pitch, a presentation, a conversation. For example, you’ll learn skills about how to manage anxiety as well as how to be engaging. And that’s not all, you’ll hear from industry leading experts and Stanford professors to learn the latest and greatest communication tools.”
4. Capture Charisma
Have you ever noticed that some people are just, really, really good at speaking to others? Like, they walk into a room and instantly become magnetic to eyes and ears? Charisma is hard to pin down specifically, but as Matt says, you know it when you see it.
He calls out some key ingredients such as immediacy, being present, while listening and engaging with somebody. It’s about really focusing and targeting a message to make it relevant. And it’s about having a passion and an energy that’s conveyed, along with a little dash of warmth.
Fortunately these things can be learned and practiced through mindset and messaging. First, if you are nervous speaking, you must tackle this. Toastmasters is a great place to not only hone your skills, but also your nerves. The biggest inhibitor to our speaking success is ourselves. We need to learn how to get out of our own way. The power is in seeing these situations (whether on the stage or one-on-one) as opportunities, to listen, and be present. These are mindset changes that can help you relax and participate.
Next, leverage some structure to craft your message. With the right mindset, and some structure you really have the ability to focus your message and communicate better in that moment. So while charisma can be ethereal, there are things we can all to tap into it.
5. Use Analogies for Impact
Analogies are like cars: they are often used to get people from one place to another, but can also be used to make an impact by accelerating at the right times. See what I did there?
As proven by that opening line, analogies can be a powerful way to explain difficult concepts and help people remember them. When used correctly, analogies have the power to make something abstract easier to understand and more memorable.
They’re even more effective when targeted to the person being spoken to. Again, it’s all about framing things in a way that’s relevant to them.
For example, if you’re speaking to a college athlete about time management, you might use an analogy about the importance of effective training to gain an edge over the competition.
People in the creative field thrive off of self-promotion. It’s the only way anyone has any chance of getting seen amidst the noise out there. Those looking to perfect their approach should definitely give Matt’s book, ‘Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot‘, a read. From making great small talk to conveying important ideas with real meaning, his insights are an asset to anyone with big ideas to share.