Table of Contents
- What is it?
- Why do you need to do it?
- How to do it better
- Where to use it in communications
- Define the purpose
- Analyze the Audience
- Doing It
- The room
- Stage Fright
- Body Language
- Be Prepared for the Unexpected
- Listen to the Audience
- Making Them
- Using Them
- Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
- Critical Thinking
Communication is the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information. This a two-part process. There is no communication if both parts are not performed. The first is the sending of the material. This most often is performed orally or in writing.
The second part of communication is the receiving of the thoughts, messages or information transmitted by someone else. This side of the process receives very little attention, but requires just as much skill as the delivery to complete effective communication.
For either side of communication to be effective, critical thinking must take place. The Sender must evaluate who, what, where, when and why to formulate the message. The Receiver must evaluate all aspects of the message to use the information.
The purpose of this Guide is to direct your critical thinking when you communicate orally. This Guide provides information to trigger your critical thinking when you engage in oral communications. This Guide does not try to answer all of the questions, but show you where and when to ask questions. You will have to find most of the answers yourself.
What is it?
Critical Thinking is a process of evaluation. Critical Thinking questions the validity of all assumptions, opinions, statements, facts, input and judgements which contribute to the solution to a problem. Critical Thinking evaluates itself. The Critical Thinker evaluates his or her own thinking process. The Critical Thinker examines the assumptions and prejudices that may interfere with the thinking process, and constantly analyzes the process used to make judgements and solve problems. The ultimate question of the Critical Thinker is, "Does it make sense?"
Why do you need to do it?
When Receiving, you must think critically to assure you accurately receive the message sent to you.
When Receiving, you must think critically so you are not manipulated into doing something that isn't in your best interest.
When Sending, you must critically think so you send a message that has a chance of being accurately received..
When Sending, you must evaluate what the listeners are saying to determine if your message is getting through.
How to do it better
Don't take anything for granted.
Ask a lot of questions to find out the facts.
Ask people for the source of their information.
Ask, "Does this make sense?"
Where to use it in communications
Here are a few examples of critical thinking in communications. Add your own examples to this list and keep it for reference.
When you hear, "3 out of 4 doctors would recommend this product to their patients." You should ask, "Why don't they?"
When you hear statistics, you should ask where the numbers come from.
When you hear a statement of fact, you should ask the basis for the statement.
When you prepare to make a presentation, you must evaluate to whom the message is directed. To be successful selling computers, you would present a different message to CEOs than you would to Design Engineers. What interests the group or individual(s) you are addressing?
What do they want to hear? What will grab their attention? What do you want them to know?
How much time do you have to present? How many points can you effectively make in that much time.
Where will you present the message? What techniques work best there? A flip chart won't cut it in a lecture hall with a large audience.
When are you presenting? If it's right after lunch in a small conference room, your audience may nod off with the lights off for a slide show.
Why are you presenting this message? Without a well defined goal, you have a difficult time organizing what you want to say.
When presenting and you see eyes closing, you must ask, "What can I do to get their attention?"
Critical thinking should take place throughout the communications process.
Listening is the receiving side of oral communications. Without listening, there is no communication. The listener must work as hard as the speaker to complete the communication. This requires the listener to manage her or his own mouth. Therefore, whether the communication is formal in a presentation setting or informal between two people there certain facts to remember:
When you talk, you can't listen.
When you talk, you can say things which make other people think you don't know what you are talking about.
Listening is the most important thing you can do to help you learn.
That means, the less you say and the more you listen, the better off you will be.
Tips for being a good listener:
Respect the speaker. Whoever the person is, she or he will have important information that you don't have. So, concentrate on what the other person has to say. You will gain from the exchange.
Don't jump to conclusions. Let the speaker finish before making comments. You may guess wrong at what you think the speaker is going to say. If you stop listening to determine what you want to say, you will lose from the exchange.
Ask questions. If you are not sure what the speaker means, don=t be afraid to ask. If you do, you will gain from the exchange.
Wait until the speaker finishes to ask questions. She or he often will answer your question if you are patient. Interrupting before a speaker is finished annoys the speaker. The speaker will lose respect for you. You will lose from the exchange.
You speak volumes when you listen. A good sender is also listening to you when sending a message. Does your body language say you are interested and concentrating on the message, or are you saying to the sender that he or she is boring and has nothing to offer you? Body position, arm position, head nods all say something. Be careful and know what you are saying when you listen.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. -Coach John Wooden
Define the purpose
Why are you going to say something? You should be able to write a concise, one-sentence mission statement that states what you want to accomplish. Do it. If you can't get it down in one good sentence, you are not clear on your mission. Keep trying until you can get it down to one sentence.
When defining your purpose, consider your time constraints. Are you trying to accomplish too much in the available time?
Analyze the Audience
Put your critical thinking skills to use.
Who are the people you want to reach? (age, sex, experience, connection to the topic, subjects they react passionately to, etc.)
Why are they there? (Ordered to be there, avoiding the office, interested in the topic, etc.)
What do they need that you can give them on this subject? (The audience will be asking themselves, "What's in this for me?@ You need to know the answer.)
What will keep them interested enough to listen to you? (pictures, graphs, numbers, humor, activity, interaction, etc.)
What do they know? (buzzwords and terminology, practical applications, theory, etc.)
Hook 'em (Introduction)
Tell them why they should listen. You must grab their attention in the beginning to have a chance to have them listening at the end. Humor only works when you are funny. Be careful that the audience thinks the same way as you do. An insult made in jest may be taken as an insult. If you blow an attempt at humor in the beginning, you'll be alone and uncomfortable for the rest of your talk. When in doubt, try something else.
Give it to 'em (Body)
Tell them what they need to know. Arrange this section in a logical order. Present data graphically in a way that is easily understood. (See Making them, below) Support all statements and opinions. Do not try to pass off opinions as statements of fact.
Pull it together (Conclusion)
Tell them why they need to know it. Tie together all of the points you made and all of the data you presented together to complete your mission. Arrange your final comments so your audience will logically draw the conclusions you want them to draw.
Control the situation. Get there early, even the day before and set up the room for your best results. Don't leave anything to chance.
Learn how to use all of the equipment. Make sure it all works. Queue a videotape to the exact spot from which you want to start showing. Check that overheads are in order. Practice how you will handle them.
Visualize where your audience will be sitting. Can everyone see you and your visuals? Do you or the podium block anyone's view of the screen? If so, move the podium or move the screen. Don't accept conditions that are not in your best interests.
If the room is too big for the audience, Block a section of the seating to keep all of the audience close to you. Carry a roll of tape for this and other last minute emergencies.
Check the lighting and sound system. How do they work? How can you adjust either if the need arises?
Check that handouts are in order and arranged for easy distribution.
Do you have everything else you need? Have a glass of water on the podium. Dissolve a mint in the water. The flavor is pleasing. It coats the throat and keeps it moist longer, and it gives you a little sugar for energy.
Maintain eye contact with the audience. Look at a person, present a thought, then move your eye contact to another person. Don't talk with your back to the audience. If you must look away, stop talking. Wait until you turn back to the audience to resume talking.
Relax. As much as you'd like to believe that one mess-up and the entire audience will label you for life as a loser, it just isn't true. The worst case is that you don't fulfill your mission. The reality is that fifteen minutes after it's over, if you did a bad job, no one will remember you.
Fear comes from a lack of confidence. If you prepared properly, you will do just fine.
A little bit of anxiety is a good thing. It means you are prepared to do a good job.
Enunciate clearly and slowly. Belt it out! Make sure everyone on the audience can hear you distinctly. (If they have to strain to hear you, they'll stop trying) Pause briefly between thoughts. (Give the audience a chance to process one idea before going on to the next.) Don't try to present with gum in your mouth.
Inflection, varying tone and enthusiasm keep listeners tuning in. Think of the boring teachers you've had in the past. Did they have monotone voices? Was their delivery flat and lifeless?
Your body often speaks louder than your voice does. Slumped shoulders, fidgeting with your clothes, scratching, and constantly brushing your hair back are signs of nervousness. Remember the old deodorant commercial, Don't let them see you sweat!
Hands in pockets, hands held below the waist, leaning and holding on to the podium, wild arm gestures distract people. Listeners will often fixate on what you are doing and not what you are saying.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Brainstorm before the presentation what could possibly go wrong. What should you do if each happens? Being prepared for unexpected occurrences will help you feel more confident. If you are confident, unexpected occurrences will not upset you.
Listen to the Audience
Remember, a listener speaks volumes through his or her body language. Listen to what the audience is saying.
See when they perk up. What did you do to wake them up?
Notice early when you start to lose them. What can you do to regain their interest? What can you do just to keep them awake?
Notice which particular topics interest them and which bore them. What can you do to eliminate the boring and add more of the interesting?
Concepts and data are hard to visualize when presented in words alone. Therefore, visual support enhances the audience's understanding of a subject.
35 mm slides usually need a dark room to project. Does the audience need to see to take notes or to see anything else during the presentation? Do you need to see anything?
Overheads are useable with ordinary room light.
35 mm slide projectors may not be as readily available as overhead projectors.
Overheads may be created quickly and cheaply by computer and printed on desktop laser or inkjet printers.
Unless a high-end color printer is available for overheads, slides can show more color and can reproduce photographs more clearly than overheads.
If you have to point to various places on visuals, overheads are easier to work with.
KISS-Keep It Simple Stupid. Embrace this concept. When using word slides or overheads, limit them to five (5) bulleted items and 5-7 words per item.
Make sure that everyone in the audience, including the person in the farthest recesses of the room will be able to clearly see and understand your visual.
- Use a graph to illustrate relative amounts.
- Specify the subject.
- Present the data needed to answer specific questions.
- Use concepts and formats that are familiar to the audience.
- Use a pie chart to convey approximate relative amounts.
- Use an exploded pie to emphasize a small proportion of parts
Divided Bar Graph
- Use a divide bar to convey accurate impression of parts of a whole.
- Use a line graph if the X axis requires an interval scale.
- Use a line graph to display interactions over two levels on the X axis.
- Use a bar graph to show relative point values.
- Use a bar graph if more than two values are on an X axis that does not show a continuous scale.
- Use a horizontal bar graph if the labels are too long to fit under a vertical display.
- When in doubt, use a vertical bar graph format.
- Use a side-by-side graph to show contrasting trends between levels of an independent variable.
- Use a side-by-side graph if comparisons between individual pairs of values are most important.
- Use a scatter plot to convey an overall impression of the relation between two variables.
- Avoid illustrating more than one independent variable in a scatter plot.
Fit a line through a scatter plot to show how closely two variables are related.
Stacked Bar Graph
Use stacked bars if the wholes are levels on a nominal scale.
- Use a layer graph only if the X axis is an interval scale.
- Use a layer graph to illustrate changes of parts.
- Do not use a layer graph to show precise values of parts.
Set up the projector and screen so that everyone in the audience has a clear, unobstructed view. Remember, you make a better door than a window.
Point to the overhead on the projector. This keeps you facing the audience and maintains your contact with them. Don't turn and face the screen, no one wants to see the back of your head.
Always use a pointer. Even with overheads, fingers don't work. A thin pointer minimizes distraction while pointing.
If you must point to a screen or flip charts, stop talking, look, find the spot you want to point to, point, turn back to the audience, then continue talking.
Don't use the screen as your cue card. To avoid looking into the glare of the overhead projector, have paper copies of the overheads to refer to.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Practice using a tape recorder. You cannot judge your enunciation, tone and speed while you are speaking. Record your practice session and play it back. You read at a different rate than you speak, so you cannot accurately judge how long a presentation will take without speaking it.
Practice in front of a mirror. This will help you evaluate your smile and your body language. (Smiling improves enunciation.)
Practice in front of friends. A friendly audience will be less intimidating and allow you to develop your confidence in the presentation. A friendly audience may also help you correct problems with the presentation and your delivery.
Practice with all of the props. This will help you become fluid with the objects you will have to work with and reduce possible problems.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Good presentations require confidence. With familiarity comes confidence. When you know you know the subject, you'll feel good and you'll feel like you'll be able to nail it. You'll be in the zone.
When the time comes, give it your best shot. If you do that, you will be proud of your performance.
Most of all, have fun!
There is no scientific evidence to support the fact that life is serious.
Costa, Arthur L., ed. Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking, rev ed., vol. 1. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1991. An anthology on the subject of thinking. Articles address the reasons for teaching thinking, school-wide aspects of teaching thinking, definitions of thinking, various curriculum aspects of teaching thinking and assessment methods.
---, Developing Minds: Programs for Teaching Thinking, rev. ed., vol. 2. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1991. This volume is also an anthology of articles which are more application oriented than vol. 1. This volume gives specific examples of programs for teaching thinking.
Lipman, Matthew. Thinking in Education. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A pedagogical work on teaching thinking. This work presents the psychology and philosophy of teaching thinking. It also provides ways for teachers to incorporate thinking in their classrooms.
Ruchlis, Hyman. Clear Thinking: A Practical Introduction. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1990. An introduction to effective thinking. This book looks at thinking with respect to reasoning. It presents reasoning processes, errors in reasoning and case studies for review.
Smith, Carl B. A Commitment to Critical Thinking. Bloomington, Indiana: Grayson Bernard Publishers, 1991. A guide to critical thinking in the classroom. This book presents definitions, philosophy and specific activities for teaching critical thinking.
Bechler, Curt and Richard L. Weaver. Listen to Win: A Manager's Guide to Effective Listening. New York: MasterMedia Limited, 1994. A guide to business managers to improve their listening skills in all aspects of work and, consequently improve their effectiveness.
Bone, Diane. The Business of Listening: A Practical Guide to Effective Listening rev. ed. Menlo Park, California: Crisp Publications, Inc., 1994. A business-oriented self-help book. Through a number of lessons and exercises, this book focuses on good and bad habits which affect the skill of listening. This book attempts to show the reader what and how to change personal habits to be more effective.
Muir, Janette Kenner. Introduction to Interpersonal and Small Group Communication Handbook. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1992. A workbook for improving small group communications. This book includes both theory and application techniques to help groups function more effectively.
Nichols, Michael P. The Lost Art of Listening. New York: The Guilford Press, 1995. AThis book is an invitation to think about the ways we talk and listen to each other; why listening is such a powerful force in our lives; how to listen deeply, with sustained immersion in another's experience; and how to prevent good listening from being spoiled by bad habits.@
Cook, Jeff Scott. The Elements of Speechwriting and Public Speaking. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1989. A thorough reference on the mechanics of writing and presenting a speech. Special sections are presented on persuasion and humor.
Cronkhite, Gary. Public Speaking and Critical Listening. Menlo Park, California: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Co., Inc., 1978. This is a how-to book that looks at a variety of types of speeches and how to go about preparing and delivering each. Each section includes Illustrative Speeches to support the methodology.
Kosslyn, Stephen M. Elements of Graph Design. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1994. This is a book dedicated to presenting data graphically.
Monkhouse, Bob. Just Say a Few Words: The Complete Speaker's Handbook. New York: M. Evans and Co, Inc., 1991. A how-to book directed at the real world speaker. This book combines encouragement with techniques and author-tested anecdotes on a variety of topics.
Osborn, Michael and Suzanne Osborn. Public Speaking 3rd ed. Boston: Haughton Mifflin Co., 1994. A complete guide to the art and science of public speaking. This book presents philosophy, guidelines and tips on a wide variety of public speaking topics.
Ruben, Brent D. Communication and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984. A look at the history, process and uses of communicating. This book takes a more macro view of the subject of communication. It looks at communicating from the aspect of the individual, relationships, groups and societies.
Schloff, Laurie and Marcia Yudkin. Smart Speaking: 60 Second Strategies for More Than 100 Speaking Problems & Fears. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc., 1991. Tips for speakers. This book presents real world approaches to various situations of public speaking.
Steil, Dr. Lyman K. The Secondary Teacher's Listening Resource Unit: A Guide to Teaching Listening. St. Paul, Minnesota: Communication Development, Inc., 1982. A guide for teachers to develop lesson plans for teaching listening. This book offers philosophy on listening, general objectives, specific objectives of attitudes and skills and 189 listening activities for teachers to use.
Sullivan, Richard L. and Jerry L. Wircenski. Technical Presentations Workbook: Winning Strategies for Effective Public Speaking. New York: ASME Press, 1996. A detailed guide for making a technical presentation. This book breaks out all of the pieces of a presentation and provides how-to instructions, checklists, tips and caveats.
Walters, Lilly. Secrets of Successful Speakers: How You Can Motivate, Captivate & Persuade. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993. A guide to the preparation of a presentation. This book goes into the up-front critical thinking that makes a presentation successful. Even the chapters on delivery are seated in preparation for the techniques mentioned.
© 1997 by Jeffrey LeafThomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Comments and Corrections greatly appreciated