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The future of effective communication

An expert in all forms of speaking, public or private, says the key to better communication is better pattern recognition. He says AI can help us all “talk smarter.”
Colorful illustration depicting a person talking.
Becoming a confident, calm communicator is a matter of practice. | Stocksy/Marusya Wrobel

Guest Matt Abrahams is a master communicator who helps others overcome their fear of speaking — before live audiences, in small groups, or even one-on-one.

His catchphrase, “Think fast, talk smart,” describes a mindset that, he says, is key to speaking well. Thinking fast is the ability to recognize and respond to patterns in order to talk smart — becoming more salient, relevant, and concise in the process. Abrahams coaches host Russ Altman on how to talk smart on this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast.

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[00:00:00] Matt Abrahams: You can get better at speaking spontaneously. Many of us feel like I'm either born with the gift of gab or I'm not. And in fact, everybody can improve and hone those skills. I've seen it in my own life, the people I coach, uh, the people I teach. You can definitely get better at it. 

[00:00:21] Russ Altman: This is Stanford Engineering's The Future of Everything, and I'm your host, Russ Altman. If you enjoy The Future of Everything, please hit follow in the app that you're listening in. This will guarantee that you never miss an episode. 

[00:00:32] Today, Matt Abrahams from Stanford University will tell us about communication, speaking, how can you do it effectively, how can you be confident, calm, get rid of anxiety, and get your message across. It's the future of effective communication. 

[00:00:47] Before we get started, please remember to follow the show to ensure that you get alerted to all of our new episodes and never miss an episode on the future of anything.

[00:01:04] Public speaking is an important part of both your professional and your personal life. In your professional life, you might have to do a job interview. You might have to make a pitch to your boss. You might have to present the results of a big project. But in personal life, you have to talk to your family, your friends, you have to go to parties, chit chat, small talk. All of that doesn't have to be anxiety provoking. For some people, it seems to be natural, but others really struggle. 

[00:01:29] Well, Matt Abrahams is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in the Department of Organizational Behavior, and he's an expert at communication, especially speaking. He'll tell us that you can be confident, calm, you can get rid of your anxiety and it's a matter of practice. 

[00:01:48] He'll tell us that LLMs can help us become better speakers. And he'll give us a bunch of tips about how to think about speaking, to make sure you structure your communications well, and get your point across. Thanks so much, Matt. And it's great to see you.

[00:02:03] Matt Abrahams: Russ, it's great to be with you. 

[00:02:04] Russ Altman: Let me start out with your catchphrase. It really is yours. Uh, it's the name of your podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart. It's also basically the name of a recent book you wrote, Think Faster and Talk Smarter. So help us understand, what are you trying to capture with that catchphrase?

[00:02:21] Matt Abrahams: Yeah, well, clearly you can, you see, I'm not that creative with titling. So Think Fast, Talk Smart is really all about how can we hone and develop our communication skills. Think fast refers to the ability to recognize patterns and as a response to those patterns, give our communication, hone our communication, develop our communication, to hit the mark, to be salient, to be relevant, to be concise, and that's the talking smarter part. So it's about recognizing what needs to be done. And then structuring and focusing that message to be effective. 

[00:02:53] Russ Altman: So I'm very interested in this catchphrase more than you might even expect. Because in my family, we have recognized that there's a subset of us who seem to think fast and respond quickly, and it comes out when we're doing board games and we're playing charades.

[00:03:09] And then there's another part of my family that is, they think of themselves as not thinking fast. And they think of themselves as having to really mull over something and formulate what they would argue, and this is like, you know, family dynamics, are much deeper, more profound responses than those of us who they qualify, who they characterize as the fast thinkers, um, they would also say superficial.

[00:03:33] So talk to me a little bit about this thinking fast and the range of ways that people kind of approach cognitive tasks. 

[00:03:41] Matt Abrahams: Certainly, and I'll be very curious to know which camp you see yourself in and which camp your family sees you in, uh, 

[00:03:46] Russ Altman: We can talk about that.

[00:03:47] Matt Abrahams: Which might be different, right? So just thinking fast doesn't mean you talk fast and it doesn't mean that you respond immediately.

[00:03:57] Thinking fast is all about assessment of the situation so that you can better respond. Sometimes the best thing you can do is think for a moment, and pause, structure, and develop your content. Other times responding immediately is what's needed. 

[00:04:13] We all vary in our ability to process information, as well as to formulate structured thoughts. We need to though, develop those skills so that we can be more agile. Just like an athlete would practice drills for their sport, we can practice the pattern recognition that will help us to better communicate. I had the pleasure of interviewing somebody who was a visual note taker. You've seen those people who draw the notes? I always find it fascinating. 

[00:04:43] Russ Altman: Yes, yes. And it's spectacularly beautiful sometimes. 

[00:04:46] Matt Abrahams: And incredibly helpful at getting information across. And I asked her, I said, how are you able to do that in real time? I mean, I can't draw with all the time in the world. You're doing it in real time. And she said, she trains herself to look for different patterns.

[00:05:00] So before she does an event, she spends time talking about what's the goal. She interviews some of the people. So she goes in with this cognitive frame that allows her to distill things very quickly. And we can all develop that skill. The deployment of it is up to us based on what is required in the situation.

[00:05:19] So if I'm in a meeting that's getting hot and heavy and lots of people are contributing, I'm processing, I'm doing my thinking fast part, but I might wait until the appropriate moment to contribute my part. So people do vary, uh, the value of it. So it sounds like in your family. It's binary. It's like one good, one bad. I actually think it's a sliding continuum where depending on the circumstance and context, you want to be able to do both. So it's about that agility that Think Fast, Talk Smart is all about. 

[00:05:45] Russ Altman: And what I really like about your implied statements just now is this is a learned and a honed skill. So nobody should kind of put them in a box, put themselves in a box right away and think that they're stuck there.

[00:05:57] Matt Abrahams: Absolutely. Many people, you know, my book is full of counterintuitive ideas. The first is that you can get better at speaking spontaneously. Many of us feel like I'm either born with the gift of gab or I'm not. And in fact, everybody can improve and hone those skills. I've seen it in my own life. The people I coach, uh, the people I teach, you can definitely get better at it.

[00:06:17] Russ Altman: Great. Okay. So now we're going to actually start at the beginning. We just jumped in and thank you for that. 

[00:06:22] Matt Abrahams: Yeah. 

[00:06:22] Russ Altman: Um, one of the premises of your work is that there's a ton of anxiety in the world about speaking, speaking in professional situations, job interviews. You have a great list in your work of all the places where people can get anxiety.

[00:06:37] So where are we with respect to, um, the prevalence of speaking anxiety? Is the world getting better? Is the world getting worse? What are you seeing in your practice, so to speak? Tell me about people and their anxiety about speaking. 

[00:06:51] Matt Abrahams: So it's ubiquitous. And those of us who study it believe it's innate to being human. We see it across cultures. We see it tend to develop and spike at different times in people's growth, especially moving from childhood into early teen years. We see a lot of anxiety around speaking start. Uh, so it's just part of being human. Now, your question of, is it getting worse? It's changing. So we, as our modes of communication change, so does our anxiety around it.

[00:07:19] I'm old enough to remember where we used to say, wouldn't it be great if I could give a presentation and just not be in the room with the people? It would be so much easier and I wouldn't be nervous at all. Well, lo and behold, what happened? And now we're communicating a lot, if not almost exclusively, virtually, and people are as nervous, if not more. Why? Because we don't have those reactions. I don't know if I'm speaking into the abyss or are people getting what I'm saying. So things are changing. So too are the ways that we can learn to manage it. So there are things that we can do differently. To manage anxiety, we have to address both symptoms and sources.

[00:07:54] The symptoms are the things that we physiologically experience, and the sources are the things that initiate and exacerbate. So when I'm virtual, one of the things that exacerbates the anxiety is I don't know if my message is landing. So what do I have to do? I have to build in a whole bunch of engagement techniques to assess if you're following along.

[00:08:12] Maybe I have you give me a thumbs up, or I have you type in the chat, or I make it more dialogic versus me just talking. So, there are tools that we can invoke to help us feel more comfortable and confident, but anxiety around speaking, because we believe it's evolutionary, has been around for a long time and how it manifests changes with how communication tools and techniques change, but it's still there. 

[00:08:37] Russ Altman: Now, uh, another thing, uh, that I wanted to hit upon and well, there's so much that I wanna hit on. Let's just acknowledge that we're having an amuse bouche today. 

[00:08:45] Matt Abrahams: Yes. 

[00:08:46] Russ Altman: Um, is the difference between written and oral communication. I know you think about, I know you think a lot about oral, but I know that you think about written communication as well. And they're different. And that difference is especially highlighted these days because of the availability of ChatGPT and tools like it, which we know our students, our colleagues, and pretty much anybody who's tried it out, is figuring out how to use that to improve, augment, replace their efforts in writing.

[00:09:17] Uh, but you know, so far, I'm not sure what the role of LLMs or ChatGPT is for speaking. I'm sure you've thought about this. What has been the impact or what do you see as the impact? Is this a good thing? Bad thing? Neutral? 

[00:09:29] Matt Abrahams: So I think the jury is still out. Uh, I am an optimistic person and I think AI can be very helpful to us in our communication, written and spoken.

[00:09:38] Uh, let me give you some examples of how I am asking my students to use LLMs to help them. For example, if you are preparing for a spontaneous situation, let's say a job interview, go to your LLM of choice, say interviewing at this company for this role with somebody in this position. Generate five questions for me that help me demonstrate my whatever ability.

[00:10:03] And it'll generate questions. And then you can practice answering them. Just like if you're an athlete training in a sport where you might have somebody play defense and you practice offense, or you switch that around. I think an LLM can help us. The goal isn't to memorize your answer to the question it generated. The goal is just to practice. So I think that can be very useful. 

[00:10:21] Another thing that I think could be helpful is to use a conversation with an LLM to help you bring out examples, anecdotes, stories, testimonials about yourself. So it can actually serve as an interviewer that helps you then stockpile some of these stories that are true for you, that you can then invoke in an interview, in a small talk conversation that can help.

[00:10:44] So, uh, I certainly think it can be a useful tool. And that's not even to say the value that they can provide for non-native speakers. A non-native speaker can leverage an LLM to help them just understand more colloquial ways of saying things. Again, not to memorize what was said, but to look for patterns and ways that can help them feel more comfortable.

[00:11:05] Russ Altman: Yeah, that's fantastic. And that makes perfect sense. And it's in the background. And I think there's a level of comfort that people may have where it's not even another human. Like this can be your pre, when we develop drugs, we have the prehuman phase where we do animal testing. And I think of LLMs can be a little bit like the animal testing before you go big time to actually deliver to humans.

[00:11:26] Matt Abrahams: Right. It's a way of desensitizing yourself that feels more comfortable. And I think that's very helpful. 

[00:11:33] Russ Altman: Do you find that going back to your, the things you said about, uh, the virtual, you know, the perils and, uh, and, uh, and challenges of virtual presentations, is it a different skill set? Are people who are very confident in a, like, an in-person environment, do they sometimes struggle? Because, like, maybe they've had a couple of their hands tied behind their backs. Like, tricks that they used that were very effective in a room, they can't use and conversely, are you finding that some people are well suited to these milleu.

[00:12:01] Matt Abrahams: I do think there are some different skills required and some people might have a better fit with one modality versus the other, but I do firmly believe people can learn those skills. So, for example, somebody who has high emotional intelligence can read a room well in person. That becomes very challenging virtually. It also, being virtual also requires you to multitask in a way that you don't have to, when you're physically present.

[00:12:28] Russ Altman: If I could just interrupt, I must, I'm going to agree with you so vociferously, cause I've taught classes with a hundred, two-hundred students, and I don't think the students understand how I can very quickly assess almost every one of them and whether they're listening and whether they're looking at me or whether they're, and I think they think that with two-hundred, they're anonymous.

[00:12:48] And I just want to say to them, dudes, you are not even close to anonymous. I can tell you exactly what you did for most of this lecture, for most of you in this room. 

[00:12:58] Matt Abrahams: Right. Absolutely. And you've developed that skill over time. Not most people can't do that right away. But certainly there is a connection that happens and you can observe things.

[00:13:10] I would argue that for those of us who've done a lot of virtual work, we can get some semblance of that where we can tell, uh, you can tell how quickly somebody responds. You can tell the depth of the content they enter, but the multitasking function of virtual communication can be very off putting to people.

[00:13:28] You know, I see a comment coming in, I've got a little ticker that's running there, I mean, there's just a lot to pay attention to. But some people are good at multitasking. I find my kids who play way too many video games, they actually are really good at navigating a zoom session in a way that I'm not.

[00:13:45] And I think they've just developed skills of multitasking with technology that I just don't have. So I think I can learn it. I'm certainly better than I was when the pandemic started, but I do think people lean one way or the other, but we can get better at both. 

[00:13:59] Russ Altman: So you have written a book, you've given talks and written papers about a bunch of things that I just have to ask you about, uh, kind of like, answering questions that you can't answer. In other words, when you get a question and you either, you have no idea what the answer is, or it's ill formed, tell me about that 'cause that does happen. And it is, 

[00:14:17] Matt Abrahams: Right.

[00:14:17] Russ Altman: It really can bring the whole show to a standstill if, um, if you don't have these skills. 

[00:14:23] Matt Abrahams: So I want to talk about two different types of questions you can't answer. The first is you don't know the answer. And when you don't know the answer, all the research and my practical experience says, say I don't know the answer. Just admit it. Don't make it up. Don't hem and haw. Just say, I don't know, but immediately follow it up with what you're going to do. I don't happen to know the answer, but I'm going to follow up with Russ, who I think does, and I'm going to get back to you within twenty-four hours.

[00:14:48] Now, if you have an inkling or a hunch, then say that. Say, I don't know the answer. I'm going to follow up with Russ. I'll get back to you in twenty-four hours. My hunch is the answer will be this. And we fear that when we do that, that we lose credibility. But in fact, I believe, and I know that there's some people studying this who have found preliminary results that suggest that if you actually follow up and get the person the answer, your credibility stays at the same level, or in some cases might even go higher, because you're demonstrating tenacity, grit, and the willingness to really find the answer for the person.

[00:15:18] So, saying I don't know, especially if it happens just once or twice, I don't think is the end of the world. Obviously, if you're saying I don't know to all the questions, there's some kind of mismatch.

[00:15:26] Russ Altman: Right, maybe we had a mismatch in the invite. 

[00:15:27] Matt Abrahams: Now the other set, the other set of the questions that we can't answer isn't because we don't know, it's because they're the reasons we can't answer the question. Imagine a CFO who's taking her company public and people want to know when are you going public? Well, you can't say that legally. You can't say that. So you have to give an answer and you can do, I've wrote an article on three things you can do, you can blame, explain, and reframe. 

[00:15:54] So blame is where you simply say, I can't answer because of this regulate, regulations or our company's policy. So you blame something that, why you can't answer. You can then explain, the second way to handle it is to explain the circumstances under which things would happen.

[00:16:11] So you're not answering the question. So the CFO might say, I can't tell you when we're going public. But these macroeconomic conditions would have to exist before we would ever consider it. So I'm explaining what my answer might be without actually answering the question. And then finally, the third thing to do is to take the question and reframe it slightly so you can answer it, so you can feel comfortable answering it.

[00:16:34] I'll give you an example. Let's say you are a company that's releasing a product that has lots of features. Somebody asks a question about a feature that you know is not coming out in the product. You don't want to say that because that might look bad in this circumstance. So you might take the question about when is feature X coming out in the product and say, our feature prioritization process is this.

[00:16:55] So I've reframed the question, not about that feature, but about our feature process, uh, how we prioritize. And then at the end, I would simply say that particular feature was not prioritized as high. So I actually answer the question or come back to it, but I've reframed it slightly to make it easier. So through blaming, explaining, and reframing, we can get out of those situations where we can't answer the question. 

[00:17:18] Russ Altman: This is The Future of Everything with Russ Altman. More with Matt Abrahams next.

[00:17:34] Welcome back to The Future of Everything and I'm your host, Russ Altman. I'm speaking with Matt Abrahams from the Stanford Graduate School of Business on communicating and speaking effectively. In the last segment, Matt told us about how people are anxious about speaking and he started to give us some tips about how to improve our speaking and how to think about presentations, speaking, and interactions.

[00:17:56] In this segment, he's going to tell us about how to structure your communication. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But there's more to it than that. He'll also tell us that listening is an important part of speaking. And finally, he'll tell us what we all want to know. What does he think of PowerPoint and presentations on slides?

[00:18:16] So Matt, I wanted to talk about thinking about your presentation and like, how are you going to structure the communication so that it makes sense? You know, you might have ten points you want to get across, but it might not be the best thing to just say, I'm going to tell you ten things here they are. I mean, it might be because people love numbered lists.

[00:18:34] That's a whole ’nother discussion. But how do you recommend people think about structuring their communications for like maximum impact? 

[00:18:42] Matt Abrahams: Really important question. And in fact, when I teach people the process for becoming a more comfortable and confident spontaneous speaker, Q and A, feedback, small talk, introducing yourselves, I walk through a six-step process and structure is an important part of that.

[00:18:58] The methodology itself has six steps divided into two categories. The first is mindset and approach. We have to get our mindset right, and then we have to message. So it's about mindset and messaging. From a mindset perspective, to help you communicate better in general, and I'll get to structure in a second, you have to first manage anxiety. Most people are nervous. We talked about that already. 

[00:19:21] The second step is, we have to remove the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect. When we communicate, we want to give the best answer, the right feedback. We want to give, be the most interesting in small talk. Striving for perfection gets in the way.

[00:19:36] And by the way, Russ, there is no perfect way to communicate. There're better and worse ways, but no right way. So when we focus on connection, actually getting our point across, rather than saying it the right way, which doesn't exist, we actually do better. 

[00:19:50] The third step is to see these situations as opportunities, not threats. Many of us, when we walk into small talk, we feel like I've got to do this right and we get very intimidated. When somebody asks us a question, we feel like we have to defend ourselves. All of these situations are actually opportunities for us to connect, to expand, to collaborate. And then the final step in messaging is actually listening. And many people think, what is listening got to do with communication? It is foundational. 

[00:20:17] Russ Altman: It's approximately half of it. 

[00:20:19] Matt Abrahams: You're right. If not more, right? We, if we don't listen, well, we can't respond appropriately. Most of us listen just to the top line. So when I teach people listening skills, which by the way, my wife still says I need practice on. We have to really focus on the bottom line, really, what are they saying? And then notice how they're saying it. 

[00:20:37] So that's about approach and mindset. Once we have our approach right, we then have to actually structure our messages. Lists are hard for people to process and remember. If we package information up in a logical way, and that's all I mean by a structure or framework, there's a beginning, a middle, and an end, we remember it better.

[00:20:56] Our brains are wired for structure. And if we provide that structure for people, it can really help. Let me give you an example of what I mean by a structure. If you've ever watched a television advertisement, you've seen the structure, Problem, Solution, Benefit. Here's a problem, issue, challenge, or opportunity. Our product or service helps you with that. And here's the benefit to you. That's a logical connection. 

[00:21:18] What it does for me as the communicator is it helps me prioritize and connect my ideas together. What it does for you as the recipient, be it a reader or a listener, is it packages it up in a way that's digestible for you. And repeatable. Often when I communicate, I want you to take my message and cascade it. If it's packaged well, you can do that. The final step of the methodology, which goes hand in hand with structure, is focus. Many of us say much more than we need to when we communicate. We take the audience on a discovery of our thoughts as we're having them and we say way more than we need to.

[00:21:52] Structure helps you focus. My mother has this wonderful saying, tell the time, don't build the clock. Many of us, many of us are clock builders. So structure helps us just tell the time. So that's a long-winded answer to the structure question, but you have to understand where structure fits in the overall methodology.

[00:22:10] Russ Altman: That is fantastic. And, so many thoughts about this. And obviously, as a fellow educator, I think about this quite a bit. What about, so let me just ask, one thing is about, um, cultural differences and communication styles. I've been married happily for forty years, but I grew up in New York and my wife grew up in California. Whenever I interrupt her, that is taken as an insult, an affront and a sign of disrespect. Whereas I am positive that in New York, that was a sign of I'm listening and I'm excited about what you're saying, and I'm going to chime in. So talk to me about that because I know you know, you're at a graduate school of business. And so there's a certain culture there, but what do we do about these cultural differences? 

[00:22:55] Matt Abrahams: So it's so funny the story you told about your wife, 'cause I had exactly the same experience. My wife is from the Midwest. I am from California. When my wife met my family, she's like, do you guys even like each other?

[00:23:05] Because in my family, everybody talks louder and longer than anybody else. Her family, they actually listened to each other. The woman who became my mother-in-law said something to me that no one in my family has ever said, Russ. When I was done talking, she paused, looked at me and said, tell me more. No one in my family has ever said that.

[00:23:22] And what that highlights is you're right. There are different cultures around communication. And when we hear the word culture, we usually think country of origin. And certainly different people from different countries have different ways of communicating. And we have to be sensitive to that. But we have cultures within our own society.

[00:23:38] You have it within your family and within mine. My department, my school is different than your school. Uh, my kids have a different culture and way of communicating than I do. We have to be sensitive to this. 

[00:23:50] First and foremost, we have to realize that ours is not the right way. It is a way. And if the true goal of communication is to make common, which is the origin of the word communication, comes from the idea of to make common, then we have to accept, expect, and adjust two different ways of saying things. How do we learn those? Well, we observe, we watch, we take feedback. So if your wife says, stop interrupting me, you have to respect that.

[00:24:19] And maybe what you do is you still interrupt, but you paraphrase first. So you demonstrate, I heard you, because many people who get interrupted and are offended by that, they feel like you're not listening. But if I paraphrase and say, and demonstrate, I heard you. And then I insert my thoughts. That might be a way to mitigate in that cultural clash that's happening in your communication. So it's about awareness. It's about sensitivity and realizing our approach is not necessarily the only, or even the right approach. 

[00:24:47] Russ Altman: That is great. And as obviously, well, maybe not, obviously I have gotten better over forty years, but there are still, including last night, times where it raises its ugly head and I'm like damn, we still have this issue despite my best efforts. 

[00:25:01] Matt Abrahams: Oh, I, your wife might say you still have this issue. 

[00:25:04] Russ Altman: Right, exactly. I mean, don't even let's so much to say there, uh, off camera. 

[00:25:11] Matt Abrahams: Right. 

[00:25:11] Russ Altman: Uh, so let me, I have to ask you about PowerPoint and Keynote and these pres, and their roles in the professional world, especially, um, I'll just tell a story. 

[00:25:20] Matt Abrahams: Sure.

[00:25:20] Russ Altman: And this will betray a lot of bias. I, um, as a young faculty member, I had a set of PowerPoints for my key class, the one that I taught in the major and required of all the graduate students. Uh, and it was doing perfectly well. We had a new faculty member come and I said, I'd love, and he was teaching a class as well. I said, I'd love to see your slides.

[00:25:38] He said, Russ, I don't have any slides. I do it all at the board. And that blew my mind. And I thought, and I said, you know what? I'm going to try that. And this was fifteen years ago and I was already getting pretty good avows, I was a pretty good teacher. And by going, by eschewing all these slides and going to a whiteboard, and this is in an area where people would say, no, no, no, you have to show these pictures, you have to show this.

[00:26:01] And I just said, no. And so I literally draw cartoons. I do whatever it takes, but there is no ever in this class, there is never a projected image. As I said, I'm betraying my bias, but I would love to hear your thoughts about PowerPoints, their appropriate role, and when they're just not the right thing to do.

[00:26:21] Matt Abrahams: So I think any kind of visual that helps reinforce the points that we're making can be helpful if they follow some specific rules. Before I get into those, I will say I love the real time use of a whiteboard or some other tool. There are lots of really cool tools that you can now use that aren't slides that serve to meet or fulfill these four bits of advice I'm going to give.

[00:26:48] I have seen it done very well whiteboarding. I have seen it done incredibly poorly. I have seen people who talk to the whiteboard as they're drawing things, they stand in front of them. People are like, the person's back has turned to me and I can't see what they're doing. 

[00:27:01] Russ Altman: And there's projection issues in terms of the voice and everything.

[00:27:04] Matt Abrahams: Right. And I, and I've seen, I've seen you teach and you're an, uh, a master teacher and I can imagine how you could use that very well. When it comes to using aids in your communication, be that in technological slides or whiteboards, four rules. First, it is for your audience, not for you. Many people create slides as teleprompters for themselves. It is for your audience. That rule number one, it is for your audience. 

[00:27:31] Second, you have to have a structure or a logical narrative arc, not just going from one visual to the next. There has to be a story first, a structure first, and the visuals, whatever those are, support it. Third, if you can use images, even cartoons like you said you did, charts, etcetera, they're much more helpful than words. 

[00:27:53] When I put words up, I don't care if you're writing the words, putting 'em on a slide, I am overtaxing the verbal part of your brain because you're having to read and listen to me at the same time. I'm asking you to multitask. We are not good at multitasking. And then the final thing is less is more.

[00:28:09] The less information you put on the whiteboard, on the slide, the more it helps. So, if you are using some tool, some modality, to help your audience learn and you follow those four rules, that is, it's for your audience, it's in service of a story or a structure, it's visual mostly, not just verbal, and it's not a lot, then I think anything you use will be very helpful to your audience.

[00:28:34] Russ Altman: Fantastic. And it's exactly, as you said, in terms of focus, when I stopped using slides and I was writing things on the board, and as you said, it's less writing and it forced me to decide what's really important so my message got better and this was all kind of for free. And so I've loved it.

[00:28:51] And I am now a huge fan of colored markers. But I must say, I love blackboards still. And I, if it was up to me, there would be no whiteboards. They would still be blackboards because I feel like I can get line variation from chalk that improves the quality of my communication. 

[00:29:07] Matt Abrahams: You are showing your vintage, Russ. I feel the same way. There's a feeling to chalk that, that, you know, those of us who grew up doing that. Uh, no, I don't miss the acetate slides, but I do miss the chalk. 

[00:29:21] Russ Altman: Thanks to Matt Abrahams. That was The Future of Effective Communication. Thanks for tuning into this episode. We have over 250 episodes in the archive, so you can spend many days binge listening to our discussions.

[00:29:34] But you can also just listen to a couple here and there if you're looking for really good conversations that last for about half an hour on a wide variety of topics. If you're enjoying the show, or if it's helped you in any way, please consider rating and reviewing it to share your thoughts. You can connect with me on X or Twitter, @RBAltman, and you can connect with Stanford Engineering @StanfordENG.