Never Met A Verb I Didn't Like

By Wayne Elise

Effective conversation is about capturing the imagination of other people.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine a banana. If other thoughts intrude, go back to the banana. It’s yellow. It grows in a tropical climate. It’s what your mom sliced up and droppled into your Rice Krispies. Just keep thinking about that banana. If other non-banana thoughts intrude, push them out and go back to your fruit.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Okay, you can stop now. I apologize. This is an impossible exercise. With all due respect to Buddhist Monks, if you’re like me, your mind just refuses to hold a constant, unmoving, static, boring image in mind for very long before it starts to wander.

We crave movement and change.

Now let’s try a slightly different exercise. Imagine a banana. But this time, do something with it. Peel your banana. Walk your banana over to a vat of boiling chocolate and dip it. Pull it out and watch the steam rise off the chocolate as it cools and hardens over your banana. Put your nose close and sniff.

Now imagine taking a bite. Chew your banana and swallow the mash. Feel it make it’s way down to your stomach and quench your hunger. Smile in satisfaction.

Okay. Chances are you stayed with our banana story the entire time. Your mind didn’t wander much.

People naturally focus on movement. Like most predators, our eyes are forward facing. That's so we can use ‘binocular summation’ to detect the smallest movement ahead in the bush. We are geared to detect and pay attention to movement. If we want people to listen to our conversation we should strive to stick more action in them.

Comedians often talk about Jokes Per Minute - JPM. They always trying to pump up their JPM. We can create a similar metric and call it Verbs Per Minute - VPM.  This is a metric to help us judge the quality of our conversation and storytelling.

This week let's try to focus on increasing our VPM. Here are some suggestions to help enable that:

* Make a conscious effort. It's easy to forget to work on our conversation skills once we arrive at work and the day gets busy. Try tagging a reminder in your calendar: '4 O clock meeting with IT team. Yo, use more Verbs to inspire.' 

* Rework your ritual conversations. We all recognize and participate in ritual conversations daily: "How are you?" "Fine, how about yourself?" "Good." "Good weekend?" "Yes. You?" "Splendid."

 Few people spend much time thinking on making these conversations more interesting. But it's a good place to start because you can work up something more 'verby' ahead of time. 

"How are you?"

"If you were to measure it on a scale from one to ten, you can write me up as an eight. Thanks for asking."

Or:

"Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?"

"I'll have a chocolate latte please, and if you can sprinkle in some extra love that would probably make me smile."

* Put in more Reaction Shots too. AKA, talk in the same way a film director films a movie. There are only a few type of shots in movie making. After the director hits us up with a few shots to establish the setting, she sets about showing us a series of Action and Reactions Shots. 

These two type of shots help each other. An action shot (man drives his car off a cliff) gives rise to a reaction shot. The people standing on the edge of the cliff cry out or they smile or they just stare expressionless. The flavor of their reactions tell us the meaning of the action we just witnesses. When a movie editor gets the raw footage from a director his primary task is to match action and reaction shots. 

Often we forget the importance of saying how we (or other characters in our conversation) feel. Instead we speak in judgements. "Holland Park is great." Right. That may be true, but that's a judgement. A judgement is an opinion disguised as a fact. It doesn't carry the personality of an emotion which is individual. Better to say, "I love Holland Park." This then leads to the natural use of more action in our conversation. We can then show how we love it. "I like walking my dog Betsy at seven o clock in the morning and enjoy seeing all the Russian nannies struggling to juggle their Starbucks and prams."

Okay, hope you enjoy these ideas and putting more verbs in your conversation. If you want to know more just page through the posts here on the site or come to a Conversation Camp and learn from me in person. I'd love to help.

All the best,
Wayne