“We carry around with us expectations that are quite unrealistic. When I go around asking people what makes for a good communicator, people will refer to senior business leaders or political leaders, and they are. They're phenomenal speakers. The reality is those folks are heavily coached, and heavily practiced. This is not a spontaneous thing that they are doing. In fact, sometimes they are coached for months. So we use those as standards that are really unachievable. We need to have realistic expectations and we have to compare ourselves to what's achievable, not something that's far beyond. So one of the things that exacerbates our anxiety is thinking that we need to speak like some of these professional speakers or TED speakers. I love watching really talented people speak, but I remember that these folks are professionals at it, and to compare myself to them is not fair to me, and it can make things even worse for me. We all need to better understand what's realistic for us at this moment.” - Matt Abrahams
“For you to improve, first, we have to start from the right place. Many of us, when we communicate, we start by saying, what do I want to say? And that's exactly the wrong place to start. You need to think about what your audience needs to hear. So it's not about what you want. It's about what they need. We must be audience-centric. Number two, you must structure your content logically and concisely. We need to put it in a structure, a story, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then the final thing, is that we must have a clear goal. If we don't have a clear goal, there's no way our audience will understand what we're saying. We need to have a goal to help us clearly and concisely define what we're saying.” - Matt Abrahams
“Human beings are wired to be nervous when we put ourselves in front of others. What we are risking when we do that is our status. I'm not talking about the status of who drives the fancy car or who has more social media likes, but our relative status to other people. When our species was evolving thousands of years ago, your status relative to others mattered a lot. If you had a higher status, you got access to things like shelter, food, and reproduction. If you had low status, you might not live to the next day because you didn't have access to those things. It is hard-wired into us to be very worried about times when our status is at risk. When we get up in front of others and if we make a mistake, bad things can happen but that does not mean we cannot manage that anxiety.” - Matt Abrahams
1. Journey to Mastering Public Speaking: Matt shared what inspired his journey to research public speaking. At his first-ever speech competition, he demonstrated a karate kick on stage and ripped his pants in front of the entire audience. This event catalyzed his deep dive into understanding and mastering the art of public speaking. He shared how this taught him the importance of staying composed under pressure and maintaining a sense of humor, even when things don’t go as planned. He also recounted a lesson he learned from his mother about how a person's communication style can influence others, shape their perceptions, or guide reactions in a desired direction.
2. Understanding Anxiety’s Biological Roots: Matt opened up about the inherent nature of anxiety, particularly when it comes to public speaking and establishing one's place in social hierarchies. He explained that feeling anxious in such situations is a natural biological response that has been a part of human evolution for centuries as our bodies are programmed to be alert and responsive to potential threats. With the modern world offering different speaking opportunities to larger, diverse audiences and the additional pressure brought by the permanency of video recordings, Matt highlighted the need to understand and adapt to the evolving challenges of public speaking anxiety.
3. Personalized Approach to Public Speaking: Matt stressed the essence of individuality in public speaking. He encourages people to learn from both successes and failures and integrate these lessons to develop a better approach suited to today’s world. He shared that Martin Luther King Jr. got a C- in Public Speaking in his early days, reminding everyone that even the most prolific orators faced challenges early on. He highlighted that people should set realistic and achievable expectations and understand that mastery is a continuous journey.
They also discussed the impact of cultural differences on communication styles, strategies for effective storytelling in presentations, how effective communication and public speaking are crucial for leaders in the tech industry, the value of observational learning, and the necessity of critical thinking and community support when seeking advice.
Supported by Ringkas
Ringkas is a digital mortgage platform aiming to solve the access to financing problem for home seekers in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Ringkas currently collaborates with all major Banks in Indonesia and the largest Property Developers across more than 15 cities. Ringkas vision is to democratize home ownership and create more than 100 million homeowners. Don't just dream about owning a home. Make it a reality. Explore more at www.ringkas.co.id
(02:11) Jeremy Au:
Hey, Matt, really excited to have you on the show. I think you're talking about such a topic that's so important and so scary for folks, which is about public speaking, communication and it's a fright. I remember being scared and having stage fright as a secondary school kid doing public speaking. So I'm really excited to have you on the show. Could you introduce yourself real quick?
(02:30) Matt Abrahams:
Absolutely, Jeremy. I am really excited to speak with you as well. I am Matt Abrahams. I am a lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, where I've been there for, starting my 13th year. I teach strategic communication. When I'm not doing that, I host for the business school, the Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast, which is all about communication skills, and I've just released my new book, Think Faster, Talk Smarter, which is all about how to speak better in the moment. And I'm really excited to talk with you and share with your listeners some of the things I've learned on my communication journey.
(03:01) Jeremy Au:
So I got to ask first, which came first, going down the academia route first, or the public speaking interest? How does it start?
(03:08) Matt Abrahams:
So, well, we've all been public speaking since we were little, right? But for me, it was all about public speaking first. My last name is Abrahams, A. B., and at least here in the US, a ll teachers will line students up alphabetically in the classroom. So I was always the person who had to go first. And so I've been the person put on the spot my entire life, really, and I was always fascinated. There's some key moments in my childhood that really pointed me in the direction of communication. But after that, when I learned at my undergraduate education that you could actually study psychology and communication, I became fascinated with it. And I worked in the high tech for about 10 years. I ran learning and development for software companies. So I've seen that part of the world. And what I learned is, you can really bright and have great ideas, but if you can't communicate them effectively, concisely, and then support them your ideas might not be adopted or listened to. So, I saw it firsthand. And then when I went back to teaching full time, I wanted to help everybody be more confident and clear in their communication.
(04:04) Jeremy Au:
Well, if you saw that firsthand, what are those first hand stories? Are they first hand stories of success? Or first hand stories of tough times?
(04:10) Matt Abrahams:
Well, yes and no. I'll tell you one of each. One that was successful and then one that wasn't okay. So the first one was quite a success, but I didn't realize it until later. When I was about eight or nine, my mother got so fed up with my brother and me and all the stuff we had. She insisted that we have a garage sale. I'm not sure garage sales translate across the world, but essentially, we put things out in our front yard and offered people to come buy them. Where I grew up, this happened all the time on weekends. Everybody had a garage sale and this weekend was our turn. And my mother instructed my brother and me to mis pell the word garage. We inserted a B in the middle of garage. So we had a garbage sale while everybody else was having a garage sale and we sold more stuff than anybody else. And to this day, my mother believes that it's because our misspelled signs stood out. So people said, Hey, we're going to go see that because all the other ones were spelled the same.
I personally think people thought we were stupid and they thought they'd get better deals. But what it taught me as a very young boy was that the way you communicate, the language you use can influence in ways that you want them to. So I learned very early that communication matters. Now about seven years later, when I was a freshman in my high school class, my English teacher instructed me to go to a speech tournament. Every teacher had to send one student and again, my name was Abrahams. So I was the first one. He said, you go, and the only advice he gave me is, speak on something you're passionate about. And then as it is true today, I was very much into the martial arts. I still am today. So on a very early morning on a Saturday, it was like 7:30 AM. It was dark and cold. I show up to this big room where my friends are, their parents who are being the judges of this tournament. The girl I liked was in the room and I had to get up and give my speech.
I was so nervous, Jeremy, so nervous that I forgot to put on my special karate pants. I was still in my pants that were a little too tight. You can see where this is about to go, can't you? I started my speech with a karate kick. I ripped my pants in front of all of these people from zipper to belt loop and back, in the first 10 seconds of a 10-minute And I'll tell you, that negative event got me very passionate about learning about anxiety and communication. So from a young age, I was very interested in communication, sometimes positively and sometimes quite negatively.
(06:31) Jeremy Au:
Wow, what a story. It must have been terrible. And yet I think, I kind of see that movie picture video in my head. I too was also like I shared earlier, scared and I basically forgot my speech halfway through memorization speech about, I think it was a rhyme about Little Red Riding Hood from Roald Dahl and I just glitched in the middle and I had to kind of gracefully, well it's not so gracefully, pull out my index card. At that moment, I pull out an index card, I remember the rest of it, and I put it back in. But let's just say, I didn't win. It was terrifying and I didn't do public speaking for a long time. So for you, did it cause you to not speak for a while or did it cause you to double down straight away? How did it work out for you?
(07:06) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah. So that's an interesting question. It actually motivated me more. I'm somebody who is fundamentally curious by nature and I was really curious. Why was I so nervous? And why did I not remember to do something? I mean, I've been up until that point. I've been practicing martial arts for a few years and I always knew you put on your martial arts pants before you did it. What made it about that moment so difficult? So I actually leaned into it. I actually continued to compete. I'm the kind of person where when I meet adversity, I lean into it. So I actually kept going.
And then I begin as an academic, even as an undergraduate, I started studying this. So it's something that's really fascinated me and I think in my quest to better understand anxiety and its influence on communication all stems back from that initial curiosity where I just really embarrassed myself.
(07:53) Jeremy Au:
I have to ask, like you said, you felt anxious. You were curious to understand why you were anxious and yet so many people around the world will also say they also feel anxious. So I've got to know like from your academic and personal professional experience. Why are people anxious about public speaking?
(08:07) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah. I believe, and many of us who study this believe that it's built into being human. Human beings are wired to be nervous when we put ourselves in front of others. What we are risking when we do that is our status. And I'm not talking about the status of who drives the fancy car or who has more social media likes. I'm talking about relative status to other people. And when our species was evolving thousands of years ago, your status relative to others mattered a lot. If you had higher status, you got access to things like shelter, food, reproduction. And if you had low status, You might not live to the next day because you didn't have access to those things. So, it is hard wired into us to be very worried about times where our status is at risk. And when we get up in front of others and if we make a mistake, bad things can happen. That's primarily why many of us, those who study it, believe that's the case. Now, that does not mean we cannot manage that anxiety.
We certainly can do things, and I've spent at least 20, 25 years of my life researching and helping people through the students I teach and the people I coach to find ways to help manage that anxiety. But fundamentally, it comes from the fact that we are under threat, or at least our bodies experience ourselves being under threat and that fight or flight response initiates.
(09:27) Jeremy Au:
I agree with you about how biologically and hormonally that feels like a natural instinct, but is there something uniquely modern about this? Because I remember I was recently reading about how today, we think dating is really hard, but turns out if you have a village of 10 people, everybody, all pairs off eventually versus now, obviously you're dating an infinite pool of people. So there's a very different dynamic to dating. So I guess public speaking, it's a larger audience. There was some unique modern twists on this.
(09:53) Matt Abrahams:
I think a couple things are true now and more recently than they have been in the past. So we have the opportunity now to be up in front of more people more frequently, and technology is allowing us to communicate with more people more quickly. The tech, the communications that we have are captured in ways that they never have been. There are now recordings of what we say, transcriptions of what we say. So I do think the anxiety that comes with communication is a bit more acute now because the stakes are even a little bit higher because what happens is memorialized in ways that in the past it never was. So I agree with you that things are quite different now and it's making the innate fear even worse. It's exacerbating it and amplifying it for sure.
(10:37) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, you just suddenly gave me an image of like, you've ripped your pants, but it was a passing moment and only the people who remember it, maybe the people in the auditorium remembered it, but at least it wasn't on YouTube. And if it had been on TikTok you'd be a viral sensation. So how do you think that folks are learning to process? Do you feel like people are starting to change how to speak or present themselves over time?
(10:57) Matt Abrahams:
It has indeed. And the expectations of what makes for a good speaker have changed. I point this out in the new book. We carry around with us expectations that are quite unrealistic for what a good speaker is. When I go around asking people what makes for a good communicator, people will refer to senior business leaders, people will say Steve Jobs, Mary Barra, or political leaders or their spouses like Michelle Obama, and they are. They're phenomenal speakers. People will point to TED talks and other things. The reality is those folks are heavily coached, heavily practiced. This is not a spontaneous thing that they are doing. In fact, sometimes they are coached for months. The speeches that we see are edited. So we use those as standards that are really unachievable.
I have two kids and they tell me, Oh, I'm going to be in the NBA someday because they love playing basketball. And I love their excitement and their passion, but the reality is comparing their abilities to the ability of a professional basketball player, you know, we're not playing the same game. And the same thing is true when it comes to our speaking. We need to have realistic expectations and we have to compare ourselves to what's achievable, not something that's far beyond. So one of the things that exacerbates our anxiety is thinking that we need to speak like some of these professional speakers or TED speakers.
I love TED talks. I love watching really talented people speak, but I remember that these folks are professionals at it, and to compare myself to them is not fair to me, and it can make things even worse for me. So yes, I think the expectations have changed, and I think we all need to better understand what's realistic for us at this moment.
(12:34) Jeremy Au:
Now I was listening to the biography of Martin Luther King and I was surprised to find out that Martin Luther King Jr., his father was a pastor and his grandfather-in-law was a pastor. So there's three generations. All pastors that had been part of his upbringing expectations. Also, he had a lot of practice all the way from as a kid. You know, he would give sermons to his toys, with his family, all the way to college and seminary and beyond. And I was like, okay, now I know he's a good speaker because of all that training.
(13:06) Matt Abrahams:
Well, interestingly, in my class, I teach a strategic communication class at Stanford's Business School, and on the first day of class, we make the point that some of these people that we hold up as great speakers did not start that way. So we show a video of Steve Jobs, one of his very first television interviews. He was panicked and he was not very clear. We point out that Bill Clinton, somebody who many people see as a very good speaker, the very first Democratic National Party he spoke at, the biggest applause line he got was when he said, " in conclusion". And then the final thing that we really use to demonstrate that you can learn to be a better speaker is Martin Luther King, his first year in seminary. He got a C minus in public speaking. So all of us can get better. All of us can learn, but it takes work. And so I think you're exactly right. We have to know that just like a sport, just like a musical instrument, you have to practice, you have to work at it. And in so doing you get better.
(14:04) Jeremy Au:
So how does one get better?
(14:06) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah. So there are lots of things. I mean, I write whole books on it. I run a whole podcast on it. Let me give you a summary of some of the things that I think are the most important to help improve. First is we have to start from the right place. Many of us, when we communicate, I would argue, start from the wrong place. We start from saying, what do I want to say? And that's exactly the wrong place to start. You need to think about what does my audience need to hear? So it's not about what you want. It's about what they need. We must be audience centric across my over a hundred episodes I've done on my podcast, the number one bit of advice across everybody who talks about communication. They say it in different ways but essentially it's about being audience centric. It's not about you. It's about your audience. The most eloquent way I've had anybody say it was a gentleman named Julian Treasure. He's amazing. He focuses on listening. He's got lots of TED talks, lots of listens. He said it beautifully. He said, what is the listening I am speaking into? In other words, we really have to think about our audience and their needs. That's number one.
Number two, you must structure your content so it is logical and concise. A lot of us speak longer than we need to, and we don't have a logic to our structure. We simply just list ideas. Our brains are not wired for lists. We need to put it in a structure, a story, a beginning, middle, and an end.
And then the final thing I'll say, the third thing, is we must have a clear goal. If we don't have a clear goal, there's no way our audience will understand what we're saying. We need to have a goal to help us clearly and concisely define what we're saying. And to me, a goal has three parts. Information, emotion and action. So before you ever write a speech or plan a meeting, you need to think about what does my audience need to know? What do they need to feel? How do I want them to feel? And what is it I want them to do? So it's about know, feel, do. So if you think about your audience, you leverage a structure and you have a clear goal, you will be much better at speaking in the moment. In a planned situation, speaking or writing, virtual or in person. Those are the top three ideas, I think, that help us be better at communication.
(16:15) Jeremy Au:
I think it's been interesting to see the changes of the mediums shaping the outcomes. And so, for example, because of this autobiography, I was doing some reflection to say, there's a big difference between a sermon and a podcast. They're roughly about the same length of time, I would say. Actually, 30 minutes, 40 minutes in terms of chunkiness. But I think a sermon is very much more to inspire, and that's a very clear story format, with some sort of authority message. You have the Bible or whatever religious material you have. A podcast script is a little bit more educational, informative. So as we think about this, today's mediums are like, TED talk, YouTube videos, podcasts, it feels like people are looking for so many different things. All of a sudden, it's not just public speeches anymore. Public speaking used to be just speeches. So what do you think those types of contents that people are looking for?
(17:00) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I want to comment on something you said about sermons, and then I'll answer the question. I talked about structure. Most sermons have a very common structure and I didn't know this until recently. One of my students was actually someone who had gone to seminary and he was telling me about how they're taught to write sermons. And I said, is there a structure? And he said, yes, there is. It's a very simple structure. Me, we, thee, me, we. And I said, tell me more. So most sermons start off by talking about the person speaking. They have an issue or they bring up a challenge or some thought they had. That's me. And then they extend it to all of us, the congregation or people in general. That's the we. And then they comment on the deity that they believe in and support, God or whatever. That's the thee. And then after they've done that, they come back and say, so what does this lesson from our deity tell us? That's the we. And then they take some final message for themselves. So it's a very logical structure. So many sermons follow a structure, and I found that fascinating.
(17:58) Matt Abrahams:
When it comes to your question about we have lots of different modes of communication now, lots of different channels, be it Slack or email or Instagram, or short form video like reels or TikTok. There are lots of ways to communicate, but I would argue at the core are the same principles, the TikTok videos, the Slack messages that get the most attention are the ones that are most relevant and engaging to the people watching them. They are clear in what their message is and they're focused on some kind of goal. So those same principles apply when you're writing, when you're speaking, when you're doing a video, when you are typing into a Slack or an Instagram. So I think the modalities have changed for sure, but the fundamental principles remain the same. The one thing that is slightly different when we use that type of technology I'm talking about, you're talking about, is you have to be more concise. When we use technology, we have to be concise. Some of the technologies, like Twitter or X or whatever we're calling it today, impose a limit. Others don't, but what we find is those that are more concise and clear are the ones that get more attention.
(19:03) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, the argument is that people's attention spans are dropping over time. And so, things are getting shorter and shorter. Do you think that's true? Is it more of an anecdote from your perspective?
(19:12) Matt Abrahams:
Oh I have two teenagers that live in my house and I teach young adults. It has absolutely changed. I see it changing. What's interesting is, not only is the attention span shortening, but the multitasking is increasing, and those are absolutely related. It is not unusual for my younger son to be on his phone, watching a video, while doing his homework. So he's on a calculator. He has three different types of technology going at the same time. Now, I try to insist that he not do that, but anybody who's ever had a teenager living in their house knows that we're not always successful at that. So I absolutely think that attention spans and multitasking, attention spans are getting shorter. Multitasking is getting more prevalent.
(19:53) Jeremy Au:
How should speakers accommodate a shift? So you said being concise is one way. Are there other ways to adapt?
(20:00) Matt Abrahams:
Certainly. So, the irony of my new book which is all about spontaneous speaking is that you actually have to prepare and people say, prepare to be spontaneous. What do you mean? And I often will refer to the example of sports. Anybody who's played a sport knows that you do lots of drills, you do lots of practice so that when you're in the moment and have to be agile and adapt, you can. We have to practice. The only way you get better at communication is three things: repetition, reflection and feedback. So you have to practice. You might not know exactly the question you're going to be asked in a job interview, but you can practice other questions to get good at it. You might not know how to make the best small talk, but you can think about what are some of the things that I like to talk about and others might like to talk about given the event.
So there's preparation that repetition. You have to take time to reflect after the events are over. Many of us treat communication like that, that saying about insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. If you don't reflect, if you don't change what you're doing to get better or at it then you're doomed to keep repeating the same things.
And then finally we have to get feedback. We need trusted others. We need peers. We need teachers, mentors, podcast hosts, authors, all of that to help give us feedback. So that we can improve what it is we're doing. So there are absolutely things that we can do. I actually like having people use generative AI to help. And you might say, how do you do that? Imagine you're going to give a presentation on some topic. You could type into generative AI like BARD or ChatGPT, you could type in, give me questions for a presentation on topic X, whatever you're giving the presentation on, it will generate questions for you and you can practice answering those questions, not so you memorize them, but simply so that you become more familiar with the types of questions that you can figure that you might get asked. So there's a lot that you can do.
(21:48) Jeremy Au:
What's interesting is that you mentioned generative AI, and I think it's definitely starting to really kick off in China. They now have started to replace human live streamers with AI live streamers who have the face, the body, conversational scripts and the reaction, and they can play 24/7. So there's one form also seen like digital avatars. So basically, they cloak a human. It's basically equivalent of a, I don't know what's the word, Disney mascot, but they put a digital avatar and someone's playing the game, but actually it's a rotating class of humans in the background that they swap in and out. So I see a lot of this industrialization of engagement is starting to happen from generative AI. I'm kind of curious from your perspective, how you think it's going to further adapt? One part you said is preparing scripts, but how else do you think it would change the landscape of public speaking?
(22:32) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah. The real answer is I don't know but I'm very curious about it and I am a little concerned. So when generative AI first hit with the big splash that it made several months ago, the small group that runs my Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast, we got together and we said, how is generative AI going to impact communication?
We need to get into this. We need to do an episode on it. And what we did is I actually interviewed ChatGPT. Now this is before it had a text to speech feature in it. So what we did is we typed in questions, it spit out answers and we put those through a voice simulator so you can actually listen to me interviewing the tool and I asked it that very question. And I asked it, do we need to be worried about our communication, our public speaking with you as a tool? And it unequivocally said no. And here's why. It said that there is something special in our communication from human to human. We connect. We feel a sense of immediacy. There's a bond that can be built when we engage with an audience.
There's an intimacy, if you will, and that intimacy will never be replicated by technology. It just can't. Now it can come close for sure. And we can certainly feel like we are being understood by technology, but I agree that, that spark, that connection will be hard to make. So I don't think that we're ever going to be replaced in that sense, but certainly it can be a tool to help. I'll give you an example. I know many of your listeners might not have their first language being English. A generative AI can really help you check what you're saying to make sure that it's grammatically correct or it can give you different options so you can learn and think about it. My non-native speakers who take my class in English, they find benefit in that. So, it's one of these things where I think it could be very helpful. It can accelerate the way we communicate and how we further our careers. But at the same time, it will be devoid of some of those things that make it very special to be engaged in person to person communication. So it's a vague answer I have because I think the answer is still being written, but I see both positive and negative potential here.
(24:29) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, I think it's definitely true. That is a tremendous tool and it definitely gives people who are non-native speakers a huge leg up. And I've definitely seen some startups, for example, Vietnam, Indonesia, really take that time to run their messages, emails to really tighten up the sales scripts. So I think it really helps bridge that divide. And it's also interesting as well because one thing I realized is that ChatGPT was trained on the internet and the internet was primarily built by Western societies. I think someone called it W E I R D. We had values for that. And so there's an interesting dynamic where it kind of goes back to the Westernization, culture of communication norms. So we see it being done, I'm like, Oh, is everything becoming much more American?
(25:09) Matt Abrahams:
I think you're absolutely right. And I think we have to be concerned with that. And it's not just westernized. It has impacts on gender and sex and other things as well and so we have to be very sensitive to the fact that generative AI is simply scraping data from existing sources that might be biased themselves and we have to be concerned. That's what I really worry about, especially for the younger generations. I mean, those of us, I'm much older than you are, but we both have this notion of veracity and being concerned about credibility. But I worry about young kids growing up in a world where their content comes from that and they haven't seen content coming from other places. And what does that mean for their ability to ask the question, the very question you're asking? So, I do have some concerns about this for those who are younger, for sure.
(25:57) Jeremy Au:
It's interesting because I've seen that twice. One of them, I receive an apology letter from someone who's relatively younger, and I'm pretty sure it was written by ChatGPT. It did not come across as the type of letter. I'm not saying that it was not written by a human. It's very fishy of AI, but it was written by AI.
I think it's weird to have an apology letter that's not written in the interest that it's generated. And on the other hand, I actually do know for a fact that I had a friend of mine who's younger and he broke up with date using a script generated by ChatGPT because he found it difficult to figure out what to say and he generated it and obviously, it's a reflection of the American approach of how you would break up. Just so fascinating.
(26:35) Matt Abrahams:
That's really interesting. Yeah. No, I think that's really interesting because each culture has a different way to approach relationships and a way to manage conflict and initiation of relationship negotiation. And if we only are relying on generated scripts that are culturally biased that could lead to a lot of issues. I think that's really interesting, I do like the idea. If you are in an emotional state or dealing with some communication situation that you've not dealt with before, just like you would go ask a friend for advice or a mentor. I think you can also ask generative AI, but consider it as just one of many sources, just like when you ask multiple people.
And so I think as long as people are a part of your community, critically thinking about the advice that they get and the information they get, then I think it's fine to use it as yet another voice in the choir. It's where people just take it as gospel, like this is the right way to do it. That's when I think we run into trouble. In my many years of doing this, when it comes to communication, there really is no one right way. There are better ways and worse ways, but there is no one right way. So to assume that a tool or any one person can do it right, I think is suspect from the beginning.
(27:42) Jeremy Au:
I think a lot of people try to do things right and I've seen a lot of people emulating, like you said earlier, Steve Jobs, specific people as the paragon and want to match the clothing, the style, even the pitch of the voice. Do you recommend people find their own unique approach? Even if they are like, say, an immigrant or a different culture, not a native English speaker, for example, how would you encourage people to find that style?
(28:05) Matt Abrahams:
Yeah. So I think the best way to get better at communicating is to observe and listen. So when you're trying to find your own style, you first have to see the different types of styles that exist and then begin to feel what is true for you. What resonates with you? What do you gravitate towards? So when you watch a speaker, is it that they tell vivid stories? Is it that they use their arms and gesture when they're speaking? What are the things that you notice and then when you see those think to yourself? Where in what i'm seeing and hearing are things that? Connect with me and I think I could do the goal is not to copy other people, but the goal is to see the possibilities that exist and then try some things on, if you want to look hip and cool, you try different clothes on. And you see what feels right, what looks right. And you can do the same thing with communicative behaviors. You first have to sample what's out there. And then you try things on in low stake circumstances, or maybe just with yourself and recording yourself on your phone or a tool like Zoom and just see what it looks like to you. What does it feel like? And that's how you begin to test. What works. I certainly don't want anybody to be inauthentic.
I tell everybody when they take one of my classes, it's like a high school chemistry class and I don't know about your high school chemistry class, but sometimes the experiments worked beautifully and sometimes they blew up and we learned something on both ends of that, right? And that's what we need to do. We're looking to define our own personal style.
(29:26) Jeremy Au:
When you make a mistake, experiment that goes wrong because you're trying and learning, how do you recommend people integrate that learning or reflect to improve?
(29:35) Matt Abrahams:
Thank you so much for that question. That is in my new book, I spend a lot of time talking about mindset shifts. Making mistakes is normal. It's part of being human. It's how we grow. It's how we learn. So to be afraid of making mistakes and trying to do it right so we don't make mistakes can actually get in the way of us doing it well at all. So the first thing we have to do is give ourselves permission to get out of our own way. Focus on connection in your communication, not perfection. When I focus on connecting with you, really being present, being in service of your needs, then I can actually do really well. So that's the first thing. The second thing is, in my book I make the argument that we should not think of mistakes as we normally do, as make, doing something wrong. I like to reframe them as missed mistakes. You're probably familiar when people produce movies and televisions, they do what they're called multiple takes. They even have a clapboard where they go, take one, take two. That's how I think we should see our communication. When you are a movie director or a TV director, you ask your actors to do multiple takes of the same scene. Not because any one take is bad or wrong. You're just exploring and experimenting to find which one resonates best at the moment. So I might ask an actor to stand up or to sit down, say it louder, say it softer, look one way, look the other. None of those is wrong. We're just looking for the way that feels best.
So when we make a mistake, we're not wrong. We've just tried one approach. There are other approaches. Let's try the other approaches. So it's a way of learning and building. So I think mistakes should be seen as missed takes. And that's how we have an opportunity to grow and learn.
(31:13) Jeremy Au:
Amazing. Could you share personally about a time that you have been brave in your life?
(31:18) Matt Abrahams:
So, there are times where I have had to step up and do things that felt very uncomfortable or speak out for other people who didn't feel like they had a voice in that moment or their voice would be respected. And all of those were brave, but the moment that stands out the most for me, as I said earlier, the martial arts have always been very important to me. And when I was coming up for my first black belt test, and this was many years ago, I was very nervous. I felt very uncomfortable, even though I had trained very hard. I felt like I was an imposter and I wasn't ready for it. And I was very tempted to quit. And I had a conversation with my instructor, my sensei, and we talked about it. And it came down to being the test itself to get my black belt was not the test of the moves that I knew and the ways in which I did it. The test was I willing to take the test? And once I reframe that the courageousness to take the test was the actual test. I stepped up, I leaned in and I acted bravely and while I've, I hope I've done other things that others have seen as brave speaking up for others, calling out inequity and unfair things very personally.
That was a very powerful moment and I'm very proud of the bravery that I initiated and did. And I passed that test. I passed many others since. But the point is that moment is an act of bravery that I am very proud of personally.
(32:37) Jeremy Au:
Take the test. That feels very thoughtful. Can you share a little bit more about what exactly it was?
(32:43) Matt Abrahams:
If I had the courage to stand for the test. So for me at the time, and I think what is true for many of us in our lives, I mean mine was a karate black belt test, but I think all of us find tests in our lives. Maybe it's a decision we make to leave home, to switch careers, to leave a relationship. Those are tests, those are choices and. The biggest act of bravery is being willing to make the choice. It's not necessarily the choice itself. It's being willing to consider the choice and stand up to do it. That to me is where the bravery is. And that's where true confidence comes is the willingness to do that.
And you know, if anything has developed in me over the years, all this gray hair and lack of it, the wisdom that people talk about that comes, I think the part of the wisdom that I have is the experience of being willing to be courageous and stand for the test or trial that's before me, regardless of if the outcome is the right one to do, right? Is it right to take that job? Is it right to end that relationship or start that other relationship? That time will tell, but with the real act of bravery, the real confidence is being willing to make the decision.
(33:49) Jeremy Au:
Thank you so much for sharing all of that. I'd love to summarize the three big takeaways I got from this conversation. First of all, thank you so much for sharing about your early catalytic moments that speech competition and ripping your pants on stage, like I said, a movie scene from the script but I think what was very interesting actually was the fact that it actually inspired you double down and to keep trying and be competitive and figure out how to do and improve it. I thought that was a wonderful journey experience that I think is really relatable to not just myself, but to many others.
Secondly, thank you so much for sharing about the biological roots of anxiety, which is natural for relative status as well as public speaking. I think that makes a lot of sense. And yet you also were very fair to contrast that against the modern environments that have changed in terms of. Many more speaking opportunities in front of much larger audiences for preserved for time immemorial over video and a different format is happening. So I thought it was interesting just to see what has stayed the same versus what has adapted over time.
Lastly, thanks so much for sharing more about fact that everybody has to find their own approach to public speaking about what makes sense for them. And how to learn from experiments that they try successful or failures, but also using that to integrate a better approach in today's world on that note. Thank you so much for sharing and coming on the show.
(35:04) Matt Abrahams:
Jeremy, thank you. This has been a lovely conversation. I appreciate it.