This articles from an upcoming book.
As far back as the Sophists and Aristotle with his manual on Rhetoric in Ancient Greece, 2500 years ago, people understood that all communication, but most especially influential, was not just about information. In modern times Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has reinforced these insights.
Most people who’ve done any communications training will have heard a variety of stats thrown around, ranging from 7-20% of any communication is verbal. I dispute this.
I think the nonverbal aspects of communication make no sense without the verbal part. So even if nonverbal elements profoundly influence the meaning of the information received, they are integrated. I’m not sure how they separated them to come up with these percentages. The focus on nonverbal parts of communication is too limited; it often ignores the strategic aspects.
I would say that the information is the smallest part of the meaning received and the structure and context of your communications are the most critical part of the overall strategic aspects.
What do I mean by the strategic structure of communication?
A strategic approach to communication is to recognise that all connections fit into the overall context of your audience’s life and that for you to be influential, it is best to take a systematic approach. It can begin with the classic questions used as a starting point for research and understanding – what, how, why, where, who, and when of the process.
- The ‘what’ question is the information you are communicating, but it is also the emotional qualities you want your audience to associate with your message (this is where awareness of the subconscious and NLP is a powerful tool, while in traditional rhetoric it is called “pathos”, that is an emotional appeal). Maybe this is how they came up with the percentages mentioned so often as this is only one of six questions that influence how meaning gets through to your audience.
- The ‘how’ question is the presentation skills, including the much-touted nonverbal parts of speaking. It also includes the structure of the whole presentation (see below for the traditional advice that has been central to how to communicate for 2500+ years)
- The ‘why’ question is the goals and reason for your communication, leading to the call to action
- The answer to ‘where’ covers the medium you are using online, in person, in writing and actual physical location
- The ‘who’ question is about the rapport and the reasons people should trust you as a presenter, writer and who is your audience, including how does your message fit into their life (in NLP they call this ‘ecology’ I prefer saying “psycho-social ecology” for clarity).
- The ‘when’ question is also related to medium, but also the timing and relevance of your message to the audience (again this is NLP’s psycho-social ecology).
Traditional rhetoric in Rome, Greece and throughout European History was for public speaking which laid out the principles of influential strategic communication a little differently to the above. It has five steps in the process.
1. Invention – figuring out what you want to say, this includes
- why you are communicating then researching to gather the information and
- Figuring out on what basis is your audience going to accept your message will. Traditional rhetoric points out the are 3 different ways of appealing to your audience – the evidence and information are compelling (logos), the character and authority of the speaker (ethos) and emotional (pathos). You will need to use all of these appeals, but the balance of them is the decision you need to make here. How do you introduce yourself and why you are believable? Is the focus on facts and logic appealing to intellect or stories that activate emotions? What biographical elements are relevant, what type of stories illustrate the information you are going to use?
2. Arrangement – this is how you will organise the information which is dependent on what you are saying to who and why. Rhetoric has available several different structures – the most obvious and common is
- Introduce yourself and why you should be listened to and believed – best done by someone else
- Introduce the topic
- Provide the information, the reasons/arguments for why your conclusions are worth taking on board
- The conclusion, including the meaning and usefulness for how it fits into your audience’s life, work whatever the target is.
3. Style – you decide how you want to say what you want to say, what sort of language to want to use arising out of who your audience is. You start with a demographic breakdown of your audience – should use working-class street language, middle-class media speak (like you’d hear on mainstream television or radio) or formal academic-speak.
4. Memory – performances of speeches in the past were improvised or memorised because reading was not acceptable. There are dozens of techniques that can help with improving your mind. The best and most important is to talk about and share subjects that excite your curiosity and passion. NLP and self-hypnosis have updated some of the ancient techniques of rhetoric, such as the mansion, library or warehouse of memory –
- The Mansion of Memory – imagine your mind is a building with each room is a subject area, or a time of your life (depending on what you want to remember). In each room is a symbol for the subject area; it can be anything that works for you. Then imagine there are shelves on the walls organised according to your internal association, whatever makes sense to you. Then place the detailed information and the forms, metaphors, feelings and word patterns by which you want to share it in your presentations.
5. Delivery – this depends on when and where the performance will take place; this is where the nonverbal aspects of speaking come into play. NLP’s awareness of anchoring and both traditions’ knowledge of the power of silences, tones and uses of movements and nonverbal can help you choreograph your performance of your presentation.
Where classical rhetoric offers a handy frame for strategic communication for public speaking and writing, NLP is great for conversation and more intimate interactions. The two work together really well.
All communications are ultimately intimate, individual. This is the primary challenge of broadcasting, as in public speaking and writing.
When communications are intimate and conversational, you get immediate feedback that allows you to tailor your delivery, proving arguments and arrange your info to your audience’s unique wants and needs, and their ways of thinking and feeling.
NLP is importantly useful for each ingredient of Classical Rhetorical structure. Here’s a little more detail. In the invention section, one of the considerations is the type of appeal you are going have as a focus. What mix of these are you going to use:
- logic and evidence (Logos) – present the facts using reasoning, either inductive (thinking that goes from the specific to the general principle leading to a probable truth) or deductive (going from the general to the particular based on a certainty) to convince your audience.
- Authority and character (Ethos) – people will believe you because you have their trust. For example there are three qualities that contribute to credibility leading to trust: perceived intelligence, virtuous character, and goodwill.
- or Emotions (Pathos) – convincing the audience to accept your message sparking their emotions through metaphor, amplification, storytelling, anecdote, any way of presenting the topic that evokes strong emotions
These will fundamentally affect and be affected by the other ingredients, particularly the arrangement and the style. Every presentation whatever medium you use has to have some parts of all three of these. Generally, though one will be primary. Donald Trump is an exception because he plays the authority card and the emotions card without worrying much about the evidence.
Rhetoric, like NLP, has all sorts of language patterns. NLP’s word patterns can be beneficial in deciding the style, as are the “figures of speech” of rhetoric.
- NLP’s word patterns play with the logical or illogical associations through the storytelling, and metaphor in rhetoric these are similar to “figures of thought”.
- Rhetorical figures of speech and tropes are usually more about the poetry of your presentations – the metaphors, analogies, repeated images, the sounds, the rhythms, rhymes, alliterations, and verbal play that help to get messages through to your audience. They are dependent on the appeals you decide are most important.
The elements of NLP’s Meta and Erickson models and logical levels are useful for thinking about how to arrange the information. Both the use of sensory language (modalities) to spark imagination and metaphors. What many in NLP call “language patterns” might better be called logic patterns that create associations that may or may not be factual but are great for activating the emotions in the style ingredient.
Politics and other forms of influential communication has been a central preoccupation throughout human history, especially when we started gathering in cities and towns. It was most important in situations where power was acknowledged the reality that it is a cooperative negotiated process.
Many people present NLP as a revolutionary breakthrough, and it was. It continues to offer insights as it had evolved since the 1970s when its original models were discovered and published. But there was a context that goes back to ancient history. Many of these same people present NLP as a way of exercising old fashion notions of power as a win/lose process they can operate like the computer of its core metaphor.