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The Timeless Communication Tool

Have you ever asked a question, and the other person goes into a stream of consciousness? My brain thinks, "when is this going to end?" You get lost and have no idea where the conversation is going. Going on and on can be detrimental to your career or your dating life. It is essential to be easy to listen to and follow on conference calls, virtual meetings, and first dates. The never-ending story was a great movie, but it's a terrible way to communicate. In this article, we are going to give you a timeless structure tool for verbal communication. I call it , "the salt and pepper structure tool." We'll discuss four things - the salt and pepper name, what it is, how to use it, and the benefits of the structure.

1. Why is it called salt and pepper? Because who likes salt and pepper on their savory food? EVERYBODY! It never gets old. I'll be eating salt and pepper until I'm 146. I'd love to take credit for this, but the salt and pepper structure goes back to Aristotle. Aristotle would use this structure in his arguments, and he won quite a few (except the arguments he had with this significant other about chores).

2. What is the salt and pepper structure? It is what we learned in school when writing a paper: beginning, middle, end. When speaking, I think of beginning, middle, end as prepare, deliver, clarify. Let's say someone were to ask you, "what is going on in the market?" What would most of us do? Many of us would ramble in an unstructured way. As a listener, this is exhausting because you have no idea when the answer is going to end. This basic structure will make a significant difference to keep your from speaking in a disorganized and difficult to follow fashion. Let's breakdown the prepare, deliver, and clarify steps.

3. How to use salt and pepper structure? Let's use the example question again, "what is going on in the market?"

First, prepare the listener by saying "sure, let me start with the stock market and then move to the bond market."

The words stock market and bond market are road markers. The road markers prepare the listener because they signal what you are going to discuss. An important note: keep your road markers to as few words as possible, preferably no more than three words. If your road markers are 5, 6, 10 words, it will be confusing for both you and the listener.

Next, deliver the message. This is where you go into detail. For example, "stocks are going down because of unemployment...etc. Moving on to the bond market, the market has stabilized because of the fed...etc."

A critical point to remember in the deliver stage is when you move to your next item, you must restate your road markers so your listeners know where you are.

Finally, clarify. You have two options:

First, if I spoke for a while, then I would summarize what I said at the clarify stage similar to the summary in paper.

Second, if I spoke for less than 60-90 seconds, a summary would be weird; therefore, I would clarify with my listener such as "what else can I go into detail on?"

Salt and pepper structure works for all types of questions such as client questions, business questions, interview questions, or first date questions. It is used by everyone. Even Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, uses it in his quarterly earnings calls. Here are several examples of how you can use this structure for all types of questions.

a) What's your favorite show? I love Seinfeld because of the writing and Kozmo Kramer.

b) Where do you live to travel? I love the mountains and beaches.

c) What do you think of Rozelle's performance? She's doing pretty well but let me breakdown the good and the bad.

d) In the earnings call, first we are going to discuss...second...third.

4. What are the Benefits of the Salt and Pepper Structure?

  1. You can use the structure to organize your thoughts

  2. It makes it easy for the other person to follow where you are going

  3. If interrupted, you can pick up where you left off

  4. It's a flexible tool you can use for short, long, formal or informal responses

  5. You come across prepared, thoughtful, and logical

  6. If people zone out, they can catch up in the middle or end of your response

  7. It's effortless to use

  8. You can say you speak like Aristotle

I encourage you to practice using the salt and pepper tool, especially on conference calls and virtual calls, where people have a difficult time paying attention. Set a target such as using the structure 3x a day. Keep practicing until the structure is built into muscle memory. Salt and pepper structure makes it easier to listen, follow, and will keep you on track. Don't just use salt and pepper on your food; use it on your communication. That is a terrible dad joke, but I have to prepare for my daughter, who will be born later this year. Thank you all!

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