Want Good Advice? Don’t Listen to this Person

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Giving a speech? Writing a blog? Leading a team?

Whose advice can you actually trust? If you follow bad public speaking advice or misguided writing tips, you’ll end up worse off than you started. Who should you listen to? The answer is completely counter intuitive.

The answer: Generally, the more convincing someone is, the less you should heed their advice. Let me explain.

The 2 teams

tug-of-war-1013740_1920Science has discovered that two competing forces are battling it out in your brain. First, decisions must feel right, and second, you must be able to explain them.

Think about it. Imagine spending $40,000 on a new car. It’s a gorgeous color. It’s purrs nearly silently. It handles seamlessly, like an extension of your arm. It just feels right. Nevertheless, you can only have it if you can justify the $40,000. You have explain to yourself and anyone who asks, why a $40,000 car makes sense.

On the other hand you could buy a clunker for cheap. You can explain to anyone how smart it is to save money, but if it doesn’t feel right, you’re not going to buy it.

“Asking my fiancée to marry me was the smartest decision I’ve every made. She is my perfect match, but I hate her!” — Said no one.

It must feel right, and you must explain it.

The plot thickens

Here’s where it gets interesting. Feelings are nearly spontaneous. Explanations take time.

321px-New_Zealand_RG-18.svgThis means that most of the time, when you ask someone to explain their feelings, the explanation is wrong! Or at best, incomplete.

When someone tries to explain a feeling about your public speaking skills, they have to retrofit the explanation to match the feeling. Often, this reasoning changes the results and obscures the actual problem.

Need proof? In a University of Virginia study by Timothy Wilson, participants chose a piece of art. Some participants were asked to explain why they liked their choice and some where not.

The result? Those who gave an explanation were seven times more likely to make a different choice.

The added logic and reason helped them make better choices, right?

WRONG! Those who had to explain their decision, ended up liking the art less, and were less likely to hang it up in their bedroom.

Your communication is art, and unfortunately, the more people explain your communication skills, the less they like you.

What does this have to do with advice?

questionmark-308636_1280I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard a client start a sentence like this: “My wife thinks I should … because … ”

With all do respect, unless she is a bonafide communication coach, you should ignore your wife. Ignore your husband. Ignore almost any advice that gives you an explanation.

Since everybody knows that reasons help you persuade others, almost everybody who gives you advice will also try to give you an explanation–usually using the word “because.”

The more “because” reasons they give you, the more convincing they sound. But strangely, since the act of explaining our feelings can actually change our perception, the more explanation they give, the more likely their explanation will not match their original feelings.

What you do about it

The solution is simple. If you want good advice, pay attention to reactions, not explanations.

How often have you seen a television ad, and said, “Wow that’s a stupid commercial,” and then started to explain to your friends why?

The companies putting out those ads are laughing all the way to the bank. They don’t care what you think about the ad, all they care about is how you react. As long as they make more sales, the ad works, whether you think you like it or not.

newtons-cradle-256213_1920Ignore what people say they think about your presentation skills, and pay attention to reactions.

Am I a hypocrite? Isn’t this post just one long explanation?

I didn’t learn the secrets of communication by analyzing speakers; I learned the secrets of powerful presentations by watching the audience.

At any conference I sit in the front row on the far edge, where I can turn and look backwards at the audience reactions. My advice is not based on what I think will work just because I read it in some famous person’s book. I advise people to do what gets a real reaction from the audience.

If you want good advice, don’t listen, watch.

When do they laugh, cry, sleep, walk out, text, ask questions, look at visuals, buy the product etc. If you want good feedback, don’t record yourself, record the audience.

Those advertisers and marketers I was talking about don’t really care what you think, but they do measure what you do and what changes increase sales. The way they get more successful is by increasing what works and eliminating what doesn’t–whether they can explain it or not.

Unfortunately, recording the audience is not always practical and you’re usually stuck listening to verbal feedback. What do you do then?

If the advice comes with an explanation–no matter how convincing–smile, say “thank you,” and promptly forget about it.

You want to listen for feelings:

  • I loved it when …
  • I was confused when ..
  • I remember …
  • Your ____ reminds me …

Explanations that actually help

Most well-meaning people who give advice are really just amateurs who cloak their naiveté in convincing explanation. They’re probably just regurgitating some other amateur speaker’s bad advice.

Without a universal standard, you don’t know.

Of course, not all explanations are wrong. Some expert advice givers actually do know what they’re talking about. How do you know when the explanation is valid?

Someday soon, after your presentation or speech, someone will kindly suggest to you that you “need 3 main points because [insert expert name here] says that …”

There is that word: “because.”

They are giving you an explanation. 80% of the time their solution is wrong. But nearly 100% of the time, their explanation derives from a real feeling that prompted their advice.

Step 1: Identify the feeling that prompted the advice or the impetus to which they are reacting.

Step 2: Ask yourself whether or not their explanation fits one of the 8 SpeechDeck Principles.

Step 3: Any of the 8 SpeechDeck principles is a valid explanation. When advice matches those universal principles, listen. When the advice does not line up with universal principles, ignore it.

“3 main points” is not a universal principle, so ignore it. Instead, recognize that the advice-giver did feel a problem related to your “content,” and use the “Clarify your Content” principle to find a valid solution.

Click here to get the complete SpeechDeck public speaking training system and communication software.

How do you get good advice? Trust their reactions to help you identify a problem. DON’T follow their explanation as a valid solution.


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I've spent my life studying what makes some communicators great in a sea of mediocrity. When I discovered the science of psychology, I found the answer, and created SpeechDeck, the first principle-centered, color-coded system that gets you more attention, more influence, and better results.

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