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Rut-Avoidance for Presenters


by Claudia W. Brogan

“I find that even small changes sometimes jog you out of a mental rut.”

~~Tom Perrotta

When I was helping a public health expert prepare for an upcoming presentation, she mentioned how she felt like all her ideas were “regular and predictable.” Her area of academic expertise is nutrition and physical activity, and she was feeling stuck about how to present her ideas in novel, interesting ways. I invited her to take a break from typing her words onto her keyboard, and pause to explain her concepts aloud instead. While explaining her key points and ideas for improvement, she got more animated and enthusiastic in her explanations. By verbally explaining the points, she moved from jargon and dusty terminology to fresh descriptions and interesting turns of phrase.

Sometimes as we write and prepare presentations, we need to find fresh illustrations or quotes. Sometimes we need to turn an idea on its side, or come at a topic from a new angle. How can we wake up from “routine” approaches and word-choices, and reinvent our approach to presentations?

The next time you are stuck in “Pause” in the middle of your project, you might try using any of these ideas. These four specific tools for your toolkit might make a difference, when you next need to refurbish some standard approaches to a project, assignment or paragraph.

Unlock your imagination

Creativity consultant Roger von Oech, PhD, wrote a humorous, inspiring book titled A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to unlock your mind for innovation. Von Oech takes a decidedly irreverent approach to unlocking our imaginations. In these days of rapid change and heavy workloads, he nudges people to unlock fresh ideas. With clever ideas, he gets us to explore new possibilities. For example, a written exercise posed the question: “How many everyday phrases can you list that include colors?” Answers included blue laws, greenbacks, blackmail, and red alert. What are others you can come up with?

Explore metaphors

A second exercise von Oech asks readers to do is to explore metaphors (hence, opening up to new options). He asks us to write a while about how these 5 descriptions apply in our work and in our life. (Try it out for yourself to see what you come up with.)

  • Revolutionary
  • Poet
  • Hunter
  • Magician
  • Court Jester

By mixing and matching images, actions, and functions, we might come up with clearer ideas about our roles, or even fresh approaches that we might take.

Exercise your brain

A fantastic little book by Dr. Lawrence C. Katz and Manning Rubin, titled Keep Your Brain Alive offers practical daily exercises we can borrow to tickle our brain cells and stir them up. The subtitle of this book terms these exercises “Neurobics” — as in, “83 Neurobic exercises to help prevent memory loss and increase mental fitness.” One example to borrow the next time you are stuck is to do a simple everyday task using your non-dominant hand, such as putting toothpaste on the toothbrush and brushing your teeth. This helps awaken the opposite side of your brain. All the circuits, connections, and brain areas involved when using your dominant hand get strengthened from regular, daily activities, but research shows that using your non-dominant hand can result in a rapid and substantial expansion of circuits in the parts of the cortex that control and process tactile information from the hand. A second example is to blaze new trails by taking a different route to work or varying a regular travel pattern. When you have a routine commute, the brain goes on automatic pilot and gets little stimulation or exercise. An unfamiliar route wakes up the cortex and hippocampus to include and integrate novel sights, smells, and sounds you encounter when making a new mental map.

Add motion

And finally, a simple way to help your brain think fresh thoughts is to find ways to add motion or movement when you are in the writing or creating phase. For less than $25, I purchased a brilliant, simple little under-desk pedaler that exercises my body WHILE I’m exercising my mind. When I’m outlining a presentation or developing interesting group discussion questions, I’m pedaling on this small piece of equipment. When I am stuck, thinking the same thoughts over again, or puzzled about how to prepare for a presentation, I get the mental juices flowing by revving up my under-desk pedaler. As I type or write, I find that ideas and insights start to appear. What a difference this has made for me. What kind of simple movement are you interested in that can spice up your work space and help stimulate fresh thinking?

Find ways that can help avoid ruts in our thoughts and approaches, in our opinions, and in our tactics. We can all benefit from some creative thinking and re-designing. As a co-worker of mine used to say, “When you always sit where you have always sat, you will always think what you have always thought.” Even in simple ways, like moving to a different seat or making fresh adjustments in our work space, we can find behaviors to avoid ruts and bring fresh ideas to the work at hand.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn, or by phone at 404-849-5182.


Graphic by Prottoy Hassan