The Art of Effective Communication with Matt Abrahams

September 15, 2023

The Art of Effective Communication with Matt Abrahams

September 15, 2023

About This Episode

Welcome to another captivating episode of Brilliant Thoughts, hosted by Tristan Ahumada on Success magazine's podcast. In this episode, we dive into the world of effective communication with special guest Matt Abrahams, who shares invaluable insights from his new book, Think Faster, Talk Smarter. Drawing from his experience at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, Matt focuses on enhancing confidence and comfort in spontaneous communication situations. Join us as we explore the key elements of mindset and messaging for improved communication.

Mindset: Managing Anxiety and Embracing Opportunities

Matt highlights that most communication occurs in spontaneous, unscripted moments, such as answering questions or giving immediate feedback. While many individuals focus on preparing for planned events like presentations or pitches, it's essential to build confidence in the moment. Matt's book aims to equip people with the skills to feel more comfortable and self-assured during these spontaneous interactions. He shares useful techniques from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, where students are taught how to deal with difficult situations, such as being put on the spot by professors. By managing anxiety and reframing these situations as opportunities for growth and connection, individuals can boost their communication effectiveness.

Listening: The Power of Empathy and Presence

In this engaging conversation, Tristan and Matt emphasize the importance of active listening. Matt's podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart, consistently underscores two crucial factors: becoming a better listener and focusing on the audience. Developing empathy and genuinely putting ourselves in the other person's shoes allows for deeper connections. Often, people listen just enough to grasp the main idea before jumping into their own thoughts and judgments, which hinders authentic engagement. Matt candidly shares that even he, as a communication skills expert, continues to work on his listening skills, facing occasional tests from his wife. One helpful practice is to write down information during conversations, promoting focus and eliminating distractions caused by digital devices.

Messaging: The Power of Structured Communication

Matt emphasizes the significance of structuring messages for effective communication. Instead of relying on bullet points or unorganized lists, the human brain thrives on storytelling and episodic memory. Matt reveals that our brains process information more efficiently when it follows a logical structure, featuring a beginning, middle, and end. He introduces his favorite structure—answering three questions: What? So what? Now what? This approach enables individuals to communicate information in a clear, concise, and memorable manner. By presenting ideas in a structured format, both the speaker and the audience can focus on the core message and establish stronger connections.

Speaking Out Without Freaking Out

Matt emphasizes that while many communication trainings focus on planned speeches or presentations, the majority of our daily communication happens in the moment. Whether it's answering questions, giving feedback, or fixing mistakes, being comfortable and confident in spontaneous situations is crucial. Matt's book is based on his work at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, where he helps students navigate challenging communication scenarios.

Tristan highlights the importance of preparing for spontaneous moments, as people often focus solely on planned talks and neglect unplanned interactions. He asks Matt where to begin in improving spontaneous communication, particularly in terms of responses and avoiding mistakes.

On Mindset, Messages, And Empathy

Matt introduces a methodology that involves two main components: mindset and messages. Regarding mindset, managing anxiety is crucial, especially in high-stakes situations like job interviews or important meetings. Matt advises seeing these circumstances as opportunities rather than threats. Additionally, active listening plays a vital role in responding effectively to others' needs.

Transitioning to the topic of messages, Tristan refers to one of Matt's podcasts titled Listen, Listen, Listen: How to Build Deep Connections. He asks how to listen better and absorb information in interviews or important situations where the outcome carries significant weight.

Matt emphasizes the importance of empathy and putting oneself in the other person's shoes. Rather than being preoccupied with planning our response, he encourages listeners to focus on the three questions: What? So what? Now what? By adopting this structure, it becomes easier to package information effectively and make a memorable impact.

Repetition, Reflection and Feedback

Tristan praises Matt's engaging tone and asks about the key factors that have helped him become a better speaker. Matt shares three essential elements: repetition, reflection, and feedback. He stresses the significance of practice, reflecting on what works and what doesn't, and seeking honest feedback from mentors or coaches.

Matt also addresses the common issue of filler words and awkward pauses. He suggests using tools like recording devices or apps to increase awareness and reduce filler words. Additionally, he explains the importance of being mindful of breath control, emphasizing that speaking should occur during exhalation rather than inhalation.

Focusing on Experience and Exposure

According to Matt Abrahams, the best way to learn communication is through hands-on experience. He highlights the need for avenues that provide individuals with exposure to various communication scenarios. Matt's experience teaching at Stanford has shown the power of combining improvisation techniques with communication skills. By bringing this approach beyond the campus, he aims to empower individuals in their communication journeys.

Exploring the Role of AI in Communication

While emphasizing the significance of practical experience, Matt Abrahams also acknowledges the transformative potential of AI in communication. He is actively exploring ways to leverage AI tools to enhance spontaneous communication. The use of video and interactive tools opens up new possibilities for individuals to practice and refine their communication skills. By embracing AI, individuals can receive valuable feedback and guidance to improve their performance.

Improv: A Gateway to Effective Communication

During the conversation, the importance of improvisation in improving communication skills emerged as a recurring theme. Matt and Tristan discussed how many successful communicators have benefited from participating in improv classes. Contrary to popular belief, improv is not solely about being funny or performing. Instead, it focuses on being present in the moment and responding effectively to the given situation. Matt emphasizes the power of improv in developing quick thinking and adaptability.

Getting Started with Improv

For those interested in exploring improv, numerous avenues are available. Most cities offer improv instruction, making it accessible to individuals from different backgrounds. Universities and schools often provide improv classes, which can be an excellent starting point. Matt also recommends the book Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madsen, which offers valuable insights and applies improv principles to life. Additionally, organizations can bring in improv experts for team-building activities, fostering better communication and collaboration among their employees.

The Challenge of Focus

According to Matt Abrahams, one of the biggest challenges faced by individuals, particularly younger generations, is maintaining focus amidst the multitude of communication channels. With the advent of technology, there are now countless ways to communicate, which can often lead to divided attention. Students, in particular, find it challenging to manage the numerous modalities of communication they engage in daily. Learning to prioritize and allocate specific times for different communication activities is crucial to overcoming this challenge.

The Evolution of Communication Challenges

Matt Abrahams highlights that communication challenges have evolved over the years. Previously, the focus was on concise and clear messaging as attention spans were reducing. However, with the proliferation of communication tools and platforms, the competition for attention has become intense. Today's challenge lies in managing distractions and navigating the vast array of communication options available.

Generative AI and Communication

The conversation then shifts to the topic of generative AI and its impact on communication. Matt Abrahams acknowledges the potential benefits of AI tools in assisting with communication. For non-native speakers, generative AI can help check vocabulary and syntax, providing valuable support in language learning. It can also generate interview questions or assist teachers in creating a variety of examples for their students. However, Matt also expresses concerns about the potential negative consequences of relying too heavily on generative AI.

Balancing Creativity and Efficiency

One concern raised during the discussion is the potential dampening of human creativity if people become overly reliant on generative AI for communication. The beauty, art, and unique aspects of human expression may be compromised if everything is reduced to automated responses. Matt Abrahams emphasizes the need to strike a balance between leveraging AI tools for efficiency and maintaining the creative and expressive aspects of communication.

Connect with Matt Abrahams

To learn more about Matt Abrahams and his insights on communication, you can visit his website at Additionally, his videos on the YouTube channel @ThinkFastTalkSmart and his book Think Fast, Talk Smart provide valuable resources for improving communication skills. You can also tune in to his podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart, for further discussions on effective communication strategies.

About Matt Abrahams 

Matt Abrahams is a Lecturer in Organizational Behavior and a passionate, collaborative, and innovative educator and coach. He specializes in the field of Organizational Behavior and has conducted extensive research on strategic communication, cognitive planning, persuasion, and interpersonal communication.

One of Matt's notable achievements is the publication of the third edition of his book, Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. This book offers valuable guidance to the millions of individuals who experience anxiety when speaking in public. Furthermore, Matt has developed a software package that delivers instant, constructive feedback to presenters, aiding them in improving their skills.

Prior to his career in academia, Matt held senior leadership positions in prominent software companies, where he established and managed global learning and development organizations.

Matt is the founder and principal at TFTS Communications LLC, a company based in Silicon Valley that specializes in enhancing presentation and communication skills. Through TFTS Communications, he has worked with executives, assisting them in preparing and delivering keynote addresses, IPO road shows, media interviews, and TED talks.

As the host of the Stanford GSB podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart: The Podcast, Matt engages in insightful conversations related to effective communication. Additionally, he curates the website, which provides valuable resources for improving public speaking skills.

Matt is an active member of the Management Communication Association, where he received a "Rising Star" award, as well as the National and Western States Communication Associations.

He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford University and his graduate degree in communication studies from UC Davis.

DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.

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