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The Study of Communication

Practice will help you develop your confidence and willingness to speak, but you should also study examples of other great communicators. Last time you watched a particularly funny movie or an unusually captivating presentation, did you ever stop to think about why certain scenes, lines, or images made you laugh, smile, or pay attention? It takes deliberate effort to do so, yet simply asking why and observing the work of others has the effect of greatly increasing your understanding of communication and allow you to create the same effects.

For example, Steve Jobs’ annual keynotes that announced the release of new Apple products throughout the 2000s became famous for the effect they had on audiences inside and outside of the auditorium. Jobs was not a great communicator by accident, however. Each keynote slide that appeared behind him in a presentation was carefully crafted and sophisticatedly simple. While many teachers, executives and students throw together dense, ugly, text-filled PowerPoints, Jobs’ slides often had just one word, which he used as a visual prompt for the point he was making. This reinforced the big ideas and words that Jobs wanted the audience to remember: and that’s exactly what they did.

As a sales tactic, Jobs would simplify a product down to one single headline that everyone could conveniently write home about. This made his presentations memorable and effective. When announcing the iPod in 2001, Steve Jobs declared, as the line appeared on the screen behind him, 1,000 songs in your pocket,” while holding the iPod up in all its glory. Publications across the country ran the same headline for their own audiences, 1,000 songs in your pocket.” It’s simple, it’s important, and it’s the essence of what made the iPod so special.

Jobs used hand gestures to also reinforce the ideas that he wanted the audience to understand. If you watch a Jobs presentation, you will notice that he makes expansive hand gestures (hands moving outward from his torso, palms out towards the crowd) when he mentions an expansive, big” idea. Jobs expresses ideas both by articulating them and emphasizing their size and importance with his body language, an expert way to make the audience feel the message.

These are just a couple of examples of techniques that speakers use to effectively communicate, and there are entire books dedicated to techniques just like this. For now, start small. Take a look at the tapes and even transcripts of great speeches, presentations, or comedy bits and fully understand the intricacies that make up great communication. Play the tapes in slow motion. Dwell on the words and actions that profoundly affect you. Figure out why they work, and then go try to emulate those same techniques and principles in your everyday life. While you do, the following pages are miscellaneous teachings on communication that will also help you enormously in becoming a better speaker.