Did You Say Something?

Neurolinguistic Programming

Using Sensory Acuity To Get Your Message Across

Have you ever sat through a presentation that completely bombed, leaving you and the rest of the audience asking the question, “Did you say something?” Maybe you were that presenter. I’ve been there myself—before I learned one of the most valuable communication lessons of my career: Any time we are making a presentation— whether it’s to an audience of hundreds or a single individual—we are engaged in a two-way conversation.

Even though you, as the presenter, may be doing all (or most) of the talking, you’re still having a “conversation” with the audience. And when you have a conversation with someone, you subconsciously read cues from them—and you tailor your level of receptivity accordingly. Try this on: If you’re not “listening” to your audience, why should they bother listening to you?

Bringing All Your Senses To Forefront

Good presenters need to consciously bring all their senses to the task at hand. We call the full employment of your senses Sensory Acuity. We don’t stop to think about it all the time, but the fact is that our entire perception of the world is a reflection of what we absorb (or have absorbed in the past) through our five senses. Even our emotional experiences and memories are bits of data stored in our brains.

Sensory Acuity is a term that comes from Neurolinguistic Programming (often referred to as NLP). I became fascinated with NLP in the mid-1980s. Since then, I’ve studied it at length, written three books of my own about it, and put it to work in my everyday life and for my clients. My thirty-first book (I’ve now written about five dozen), a best-selling Simon & Schuster book called Life Is a Series of Presentations, was endorsed by Shark Tank’s Daymond John as one of the six top must-read books in the world, right up there with Think and Grow Rich. In chapter three, we talked extensively about NLP, and about Sensory Acuity in particular, so we‘ve built that chapter into a critical learning for you here.

“Neuro” refers to the study of the brain and nervous system; “linguistic” refers to language and its characteristics; and “programming” is the development and implementation of a strategy or plan. So Neurolinguistic Programming is a long-winded name for the study and use of language as it impacts the brain, and therefore our behavior. I really got into NLP when I began to realize the implications it had for presentation effectiveness. (Note: While NLP has the potential to be used to manipulate an audience, I strongly believe effective presentations must come from the heart, must be genuine, and must not be manipulative. If used with a light touch, NLP can truly magnify the impact of our presentations— and magnifying impact is cool.)

6 Principles Of Neurolinguistic Programing

Here are six broad principles of NLP that I believe will help you have a greater impact with your presentations:

1. We must respect different perspectives. People view the world differently, depending upon their life experiences: what they’ve read, seen, and felt; their religious experiences; their formal education; what their parents have taught them; where they’ve lived and continue to live; and what kind of people and environment they’ve been exposed to. As a result of these varied experiences, different people use different frames of reference to analyze and respond to what’s going on in the world. So, while we may not agree with the way some other people see the world, we must respect their views as having been legitimately arrived at based upon what they know and don’t know of life. If we are to communicate effectively, we must do justice to those differences, because such an understanding makes us more flexible, and therefore more effective.

2. Our communication goes beyond the words we choose. The way we say things and the way we receive information are as important as the actual words we use. While we should never lose sight of why we are communicating with our audience and what we are communicating about, we also must always be conscious of how we are communicating. Our verbal vocabulary is just one piece of this puzzle.

3. When we become like our audience, our message is better received. People are much more receptive to messages from those whom they consider to be like themselves. As a consequence, the presenter who appears to be similar to the audience has a much greater opportunity to achieve rapport. So we should strive to create sameness with our audience.

4. People receive information differently. While most people appear to have all their senses, it turns out that individuals have different preferences for receiving information. If you were bilingual and went to a foreign land where you knew the language, you would likely communicate better in the native tongue than by persisting in English. So it is with the ways people receive information. Once we discover their preference, we must endeavor to adjust the “language” of our presentation for optimal understanding.

5. We also reject information based upon subconscious personal preferences. Just as people have preferences for the way they wish to receive information, they have inclinations about what information they would prefer not to receive at all—or will only agree to receive in an altered way. By understanding the way our audience filters information, we have another means to adjust our approach for better rapport.

6. Generalizations and other loaded phrases can work against our message. We must choose our words with precision and understand which words and phrases hamper or defeat our ability to communicate effectively. Clarity of language can be as important as clarity of purpose.

The founders of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, reasoned that if a skilled communicator could learn through observation the specific ways an individual forms internal images and thoughts, they could use that information to have a more direct effect on how that individual receives the message. Of course, this only works to the extent that the communicator is willing to adjust to the audience. The person with the most flexibility has the best chance of achieving the outcome he or she desires.

Sympathize, Leverage & Connect

In many ways, NLP is nothing more than a formalized approach to sympathizing with the person to whom you are trying to communicate and then leveraging that connection to get your point across. Remember that one of the most powerful forces that act upon our receptivity to a message is the Liking principle: We like and trust people who are like us. We will largely succeed in our presentations to the degree that we can successfully be like our audience.

Research indicates that, on average, about a third of what you communicate to others has to do with the way you say something rather than the words you choose. As it turns out, usually only about a small percent of what you communicate is comprised of the word selection itself—about half of the message comes from your body language. You must always be aware that how you say something is potentially five times more powerful than what you say. Be aware that the how includes tonality, rhythm, volume, and the way you say your words and phrases.

If the discipline of NLP teaches us anything, it is the importance of precision in our communications. Study after study has shown that the more precise a person is in communication, the more successful he or she becomes. The highest achievers are those who are able to clearly convey their abstract visions and ideas to almost anyone.