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Hello, I'm Matt Abrahams and I teach strategic communication at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Welcome to Think Fast. Talk Smart. The podcast communication can be tricky and messy. We've all been in situations with our co-workers, bosses, friends and family that haven't had clean and clear resolution. We started this podcast with the goal of helping you hone your communication and expand your toolkit for dealing with these types of challenging situations. And while we've covered a wide range of topics so far, we thought that we would take a different approach for this episode by addressing specific communication, challenges and conundrums that you in our audience face.
A little bit ago, we put out a call for questions and we were thrilled to receive a wide range of inquiries from all over the globe. Thank you to all of you who submitted questions. Today, we'd like to address a few of these questions to help coordinate this Q&A process. I am excited to invite Sean Jackson to help me. Sean is an MBA student at the GSB. He is someone who not only cares deeply about communication, but he actively works to help others be not only better communicators, but better people.
Shewan founded the organization Our Voices Matter, a culturally sustaining, public speaking program that empowers undervalued high school students to be advocates for social justice wherever they decide to go in life. The program helps students build their communication skills and critical consciousness simultaneously. Sean and I have had wonderful exchanges about the importance of developing and honing communication skills. His insightful questions and thoughtful responses make him an ideal partner for what we're doing in this episode. Welcome, Shuan.
Thanks for having me today and looking forward to our conversation. I am so inspired by the work you've done with our voices matter. It's clear that you're really impacting your students and their communities. Let's go ahead and get started. Sounds good. Before we get to the questions, your audience, and I'd like to start with a question that some of my students asked me frequently in the voices matter. How do you know what to talk about in the first place, huh?
Yeah. Where do you start? That's a that's a frequent question I get. You know, the the best way to approach that, I think is really think about your audience, think about who they are and what it is they need, what would benefit them. So I often encourage people to do some reconnaissance and reflection, to take time to think about who the audience is, what they know, what their attitudes are. And based on that, begin to hone your communication and focus it on meeting those needs.
From there, you can do some research, you can talk to people, do some focus grouping and check in with them to see if what you're thinking about makes sense and where you're going is a good direction. I think that's an excellent point. I really agree with that in terms of thinking about who your audience is and is something I will continue to emphasize with my students to make sure their communication actually at least to some positive impact on world. All right, now we're going to dive into audience questions.
Our first question comes from Patricia Palestina. It has to do with being interrupted. Let's listen. How do I deal with being interrupted in social situations when a group of people are talking and in professional settings when I am trying to convey an idea?
Yes, Patricia, dealing with interruptions both in social and professional situations can be very challenging and, quite frankly, frustrating. So here are a couple of things to think about that might help you in advance, especially in professional situations. If you can set expectations up front, set some boundaries, if you will. So if you're giving a presentation and you know that people are going to want to interrupt or have contributions to make set expectations by saying, I'd like to have just two minutes to share my overall vision for what I expect we'll be discussing and where I think this should go by setting that expectation, hopefully people will give you that amount of time to get your point across.
It also helps you sound more credible and confident by asking for that time and setting those boundaries. Now, if somebody actually does interrupt you, something you can do is to leverage a paraphrase. Paraphrasing is where you highlight something that somebody said and gives you the right to take the floor back. So if somebody interrupts, simply take something that they've said, comment on it, and then gain the floor back. Taken together, Patricia, I hope those give you some ideas about how to make sure that you avoid being interrupted if possible.
And if it does happen, you can take the floor back when needed.
Those are some some great thoughts. And I appreciate you sharing that. And I really agree with your point on expectations. When I'm communicating with people and I fear being interrupted, I like to use signposting where I say I have three things I want to talk about today. One about our theory of change. Second, about logistics. And third, about how we move forward. And I think when you set expectations that way, you give people a clear sense of where you're going so that hopefully they don't interrupt.
That's exactly right. I think setting expectations and setting that signpost or preview can really help people know what's coming and know when it's their turn to share. Excellent point. The next question comes from Ryan Brown and focuses on applying concepts from spoken communication to written. Hi, my name is Ryan Brown, and I'd like to know what advice or recommendations you have for using some of the recommendations and guidance from Think Fast, talk smart when presenting in emails or pitch decks or other written types of communication.
Thanks. So, Ryan, you know, everything that we cover on the Think Fast Talk Smart podcast and everything I teach in my strategic communication classes, and when I do my consulting, it really applies not just to spoken communication, but written communication. Many people tell me that after they've they've really focused on the oral communication parts of what I teach, that they see direct benefit in their writing. So a few things I'd like to highlight. Again, it gets back to the very first question Shuan asked.
You have to know your audience and you have to tailor what you write, just like you tailor what you speak to that audience down to the linguistic level, the words that people expect and know. Additionally, you have to have the mantra about being clear, concise and engaging. Effective communication, written or spoken, must be clear, concise and engaging. And one way to do that is to leverage structure. You've heard me talk about structure often in this podcast.
Structure helps you as a communicator when you're speaking or writing, and it helps your audience as well to understand. So if you're writing an email, perhaps you should consider the what? So what now? What structure? You start by talking about what it is. You then talk about why it's important to the person you're speaking to and then you conclude by asking what it is you want of that person. That structure helps your emails and your spoken communication be concise.
If you're writing a pitch or a persuasive presentation, think about another structure. The problem, solution, benefit structure, articulate in detail what the problem is. Then talk about your suggestions for solving that problem and then you can discuss the benefits to enacting your particular solution. Again, that structure helps you be clear, concise and engaging in Shuan. If you'll allow me one more bit of advice when you are writing, it is really important to do two things.
Ask somebody else to proofread your material, not just for grammar issues, but for logic. Does it flow well and read what you've written out loud when we write and then when we read it without speaking it, we sometimes skip over some things that actually, when spoken, stand out and we realize we need to change what we've written. So it's about your audience, it's about structure, and it's about the way in which you edit in proof before you're done.
Those are excellent points, Matt, and I think the point on being concise is especially important with regard to communications. People received so many emails every day and you want to make sure that your message gets directly to the point. And I especially appreciate what you said in terms of structure leading with what your key message is up front so people understand what they should be getting out of your message.
You know, one, I'd like to turn the tables now because we got a question that I think is a perfect one for you to answer. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on the next question that comes from William Kopans. His question is about advocating for change when you don't have a lot of power as a student.
How can you make change in your school systems where the administration is set in their ways and you have far less power? This is an excellent question, and you're right, it is when we think a lot about in our Voices Matter program, where students worry that administrators won't listen to them. There are few thoughts that I would I would offer on this question. The first is to think about how you can communicate as a collective. It's easy for someone in power to ignore one student or one individual, but it's hard to ignore one hundred.
Now, that doesn't mean that 100 hundred students have to talk to an administrator. But what that does mean is you engage in that conversation. Think about the stories and quantitative data you can collect from many students to show that you're communicating as a community. And when you communicate as a community, as a larger collective, you're increasing the power that you have in that conversation and showing that you're thinking about more people besides yourself. The second thing that I would offer is to understand what the administrators care about and understand what their communication preferences are.
You might consider, for example, having a meeting with the administrator is simply to understand what their priorities are, what their top concerns are and how they like to receive information. And it goes back to what you said earlier about knowing your audience so that you can design your communication plan in ways that will resonate with your audience. In the third piece of advice that I would offer is around a pitfall to avoid. Sometimes when you're preparing for meetings with those who have more power, you want to compromise a lot.
And while you certainly your communication to resonate with your audience, you want to be careful not to compromise on your values too much early on, if at all. People ultimately respect those who stand firm in their beliefs but are willing to negotiate the specific solutions that allow you to uphold the values that are most important to you. So to recap, I would say you want to, one, communicate as a collective to think carefully about what your audience wants to hear in three, hold true to what your values are and not compromise too much along the way.
Wow. A lot to take away there. And I certainly think that answer will help William in his situation. And many of the people listening in. When you find yourself in a situation where perhaps the power structure or status structure is not in your favor. I'll just echo one thing that you said there, Shuan, that I think is really, really critical is that when you start working collaboratively with others, not only do you benefit from just having more voices to advocate for what you're advocating for, but you also benefit from the diversity of insight and opinion and experience that those people bring that can help you actually hone your message, make it tighter, clearer and resonate more with those that you're speaking to.
So very helpful answer there. Thank you. You know, Shuan, before we end. I'd love to ask you to answer the same three questions I ask everyone who joins me. Are you up for that? Let's do it. All right. So question number one, if we were to capture the best communication advice you ever received as a five to seven word presentation slide title, what would it be? This is a tricky one. But my answer would be ask yourself, what's your goal?
Excellent. Tell me more about why that is so important to you. I think with communication, it's easy for us to get caught up with all of the ideas we have in our head. But if we think about what our goal actually is, we can start to build out some ideas that don't help us achieve that goal. Another reason why this question is important to me is because it helps you understand if you are the best person to communicate specific ideas or if you need to bring in someone else.
And I think if you know what your goal is, you can figure out with some self reflection whether or not you're in a good position to advance the agenda that you have or that you need to have a team of people communicating with you or if you need to have someone else sharing that message instead, the notion of having a clear goal for yourself to help guide your communication.
But also and I love how you added this, this notion of making sure that you're the right person for that goal is really, really insightful. So thank you. Let me ask you question number two, and I'll be very curious for your answer for this. Who is a communicator that you admire and why?
A communicator that I admire is Brian Stevenson. He is the founder of a nonprofit called the Equal Justice Initiative that fights for criminal justice reform in the United States. They started off as an organization that was supporting people who had been wrongly convicted primarily in the South. And what I really admire about Bryan Stevenson is that he acknowledges hard truths in a way that does not villainize any one person. And he speaks about these difficult truths, be it racism in the United States or the prison industrial complex, without making it will help.
He really invites you when to reflect on these difficult moments and think about what we can do to make things better moving forward, and I think that ability to acknowledge a typical moment about where our country is coupled with some inspiration about how we can move forward is incredible and something that I try to do in my own communication. In the last thing that I admire about Bryan Stevenson is his use of personal stories. He does a beautiful job of portraying the highs and lows of an individual's life, as opposed to restricting them to one particular moment.
And I think that nuance was storytelling helps to humanize the people he's talking about and allows the listener to develop a stronger connection with that individual that he's sharing a story about. While I absolutely look forward to watching some of his communication and learning from him in many of the same ways that it sounds like you have learned from him. Question number three, what are the first three ingredients that go into a successful communication recipe?
I love this question that it's an awesome question. Thank you. Three ingredients for me. One, a clear goal. Which goes back to what we talked about earlier, recognizing what it is you're actually working towards and how you may or may not be best suited to achieve that goal, to smoke awareness, we all have different strengths when it comes to communication. And so you want to do some reflection on that to make sure you're leveraging that when you're communicating your ideas.
And three, empathy. It's so important when we're communicating with others that we understand what their interests are, what their needs are to make sure that we're actually engaging in dialogue with one another as opposed to talking past each other. So I would say a clear goal, self-awareness and empathy would be the first three ingredients that that I would put into a successful communication recipe. I really don't see how that recipe could come out poorly with those three ingredients. Clearly very helpful.
One focused on the message, one focused on yourself, and then one focused on the impact are really, really important. Thank you, Shuan. This has been absolutely a delight for me to collaborate with you. I wish you the best as you continue your impactful work with our voices matter. And for those of you wanting to see Shuan in action, I invite you to watch his awesome low keynotes talk he gave on problematize persuasion. For those of you not familiar, a keynote is the GSB version of essentially a TED talk.
You can find Chauvin's talk online and it is truly amazing in terms of the communication skill deployed, but the message is so important and critical. Again, Schwamm, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for having me.
Matt, I really admire the work that you're doing and how you're pushing so many of us to improve our own communication. And it was a pleasure talking with you today. And thanks to everyone who submitted questions, our podcast is in service of our audience. So thank you for your participation and response. Thank you for listening to Think Fast, Talk Smart, the podcast produced by Stanford Graduate School of Business. You can learn more at GSB Dot Stanford Edu.