Here’s the 3rd part of my C.R.I.S.P.E.R. formula for good public speaking skills: being insightful. How do you define insight? It may be hearing a new twist, or a different perspective on a topic. In today’s article we’ll look at definitions of both insight and thinking skills, and 3 ways you can add fresh ideas to your presentations.
Definitions of insight and thinking skills
In my overview article 7 Skills of Every Good Speaker I wrote: ‘dictionary.reference.com defines the word insightful as “the ability to perceive clearly or deeply; penetration”. And Scott Berkun in his great book Confessions of a Public Speaker (O’Reilly 2010) goes so far as to say this: “The problem with most bad presentations I see is not the speaking, the slides, the visuals, or any of the things people obsess about. Instead, it’s the lack of thinking.” (p.56)’
Strong words from Berkun, which I agree with. While you’re thinking 😉 about them, here’s another perspective on thinking from cognitive scientist and AI researcher Marvin Minsky:
“If you understand something in only one way, then you don’t really understand it at all. The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we’ve connected it to all other things we know. Well-connected representations let you turn ideas around in your mind, to envision things from many perspectives until you find one that works for you. And that’s what we mean by thinking!”
In similar vein, Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From (in the Age newspaper Oct. 23rd 2010), argues that the best way to encourage new ideas isn’t to focus on “being creative” or do some “blue-sky thinking” (yuk!) but to expose yourself to as many rival and related ideas as you can. Johnson, who has over 1.4 million Twitter followers, has taken this idea to extremes, spending years collecting 1000’s of short quotes, as well as his own writing, in a computer program called DevonThink. The program uses artificial intelligence to make connections between all its content. He says in the Age article “I can put a quote in and ask it to show me things that are related to this – which is literally a way of exploring the adjacent possible. Half the time it’ll suggest something completely irrelevant, but amid that noise there’s always some crazy little new connection that I hadn’t thought of.”
How much fun does that program sound? Seriously, that could be a way to spend a lot of hours….or is that just me?
Some examples of transferring knowledge:
I frequently transfer knowledge from one world to another, taking ideas about practice and performance from my music background into my public speaking coaching; and an article I wrote recently – about the mindset needed to learn something new as an adult – uses my recent swimming lessons as an example (Practising public speaking skills: are you a learner or a performer?) The business world frequently uses analogies of war and sport – though music is becoming more common: I read recently of a string quartet teaching business people about team communication, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has worked with corporate leaders.
So what does achieving new insights take (other than firing up your own artificial intelligence software program)? Here are 3 ways:
- Time – time to research actively, and then time and space to incubate your ideas and let your mind make connections in an unforced way.
- Curiosity – being curious, a willingness to be open to new ideas. It’s natural for our minds to become set in our ways of thinking, and look for ideas and people who confirm our initial bias. It takes effort to be curious, too, and it won’t happen at all without mental space (see no.1 above).
- Connectedness – talking with others, reading their work if relevant, and bouncing ideas off them (with appropriate attribution if required, of course); relating and comparing your own experience to that of others.