One of the simplest ways of improving your communication, whether during a formal presentation, or a simple chat, is to remember the Circle of Communication. There is a process at play whenever we talk to someone with the intention to change their minds or hearts, or just to tell them something they might find funny or useful.
1. You think. The impulse to speak is born in the mind. This impulse will contain the intention of the communication, how you want to change your listener. This is often not explicitly understood or articulated, but nonetheless, each communication is founded in a reaction to the previous circumstance, and that reaction is your intention to direct the next event.
2. You breathe. Almost simultaneously, your body responds physically to prepare for speech, taking in breath, readying itself to make sound. If the breath impulse separates from the thought/intention/reaction impulse, all manner of things start to go wrong with the voice.
3. You speak. Through a whole host of complex interactions, the choice of words to articulate the thought impulse, and the physical reaction to create the voice, combine with precise movements in the mouth to make speech sound. This combination of sounds, speech, travels through the space and enters the ear of your listener(s).
4. They hear you. Your listeners then receive the vibrations, in their extraordinary complexity, right onto their skin, and in particular onto the tiny drums in their ears. This is further received deep into the brain, both in analytical language areas, and in wide ranging vocabulary areas covering the brain’s surface, and into cortices stimulated by the content (for example imagery, or texture).
5. They Respond. Your listeners will then go through their own process and there will be a reaction. This could either be verbal (setting up a dialogue) or silent (which allows you to continue your monologue).
6. You Receive. If you are paying attention, you receive your listener’s silent or verbal response. And this should affect how you continue to speak to them. That information is just what you need to ensure that each moment of your communication is attuned to them, their journey, and whether you are achieving your intention.
7. You Think Again. Once more the impulse to speak is born in the mind.
The journey of the sound across the space, the landing and decoding of the meaning, and the observation of the listener’s response, steps 4-6 are all vital. During this part of the circle of communication, there is a natural pause, during which you have a new thought, and set up a new physical preparation for speech.
The ebb and flow of communication: think, breathe, speak, receive, think, breathe, speak, receive, is vital but so easily forgotten. Most of us think, speak, speak, speak, speak, rushing on from thought to thought without time to physically prepare, for the listener to receive and respond to our words, or for us to notice our listener’s reponse.
Alternatively we might think, think, speak, think, think, think, again blocking the flow, but this time by stumbling and fixating on the impulse.
Once a natural rhythm is discovered, there is time for easy (but not over-laboured) thought, time for the physical processes that produce a strong voice and clear speech, time and awareness of the listener receiving your communication (vital for audience rapport and engagement), time then to discover and release the next thought.
An exercise to develop the rhythm
This exercise is a standard amongst Speak Easily’s trainers to help discover this easy rhythm of communication. We would use it with people preparing for large public speaking events, or with individuals looking to master their speech for more intimate occasions. By creating the space for all the different moments of the circle of communication to exist, many individual problems with those moments can vastly improve.
You need two chairs which you set, facing forwards but slightly angled towards each other, about 1.5 metres apart. Sit in one chair. You start to speak (perhaps tell an anecdote, or a prepared presentation, or a point of view in a debate you have held recently). However, you can only say the contents of one ‘thought’ whilst sitting on the chair. Before continuing, you need to move over to the other chair. You may not speak again before you are settled on the other chair. You need to keep the thought alive or ‘floating’ as you move over.
This can be used to practice large ‘sections’ of a long speech, but to gain the most benefit from it as an Elocution exercise, the ‘thoughts’ that need separating, should be tiny. Each moment of the speech should have time to be thought, said, landed and received before the next moment happens. For example, take the following sentence:
- I believe that it is in the best interests of the British people to hold the Football World cup in Manchester in 2040.
The individual component thoughts/moments in this sentence are as follows:
- I believe/that it is/in the best interests/of the British people/to hold the Football World cup/in Manchester/in 2040.
You need to move to a different chair every time the / symbol appears.
Keep the whole thought floating or alive, but really separate out the individual ‘beads’ that make up the chain. And note how this gives you time to power the voice, time to prepare the next words, and time to observe your audience. You are also likely to give each word more ‘weight’ and to define the sounds more clearly as there is now more space around each word. And if you have a strong accent, the breaking of your natural rhythm, may allow more space around the words for your listener, thus making it much easier for them to tune in to the sounds you are using.
The above exercise, which I call ‘Thought Separation’ is a key tool to clarify the rhythm of speech and ensure that there is enough time for all the relevant parts to happen. But please do note that this is an organic, physical exercise. At no point did I say ‘slow down’, and nor would any of our coaches. Mechanical, superficial commands like ‘slow down’ do nothing to respect the rich complexity of our communication processes and lead to mechanical and awkward results. Speak Easily’s coaches focus on encouraging organic, natural, easeful communication, based on your natural rhythm and the circle of communication.
So, perhaps your business could do with a little more clarity? Perhaps your colleagues would benefit from more true connection with what you are saying? In that case it might very well be time to remember the circle of communication and practice paying attention and responding to your listeners in the space between the thoughts.