The SPICE Formula of Sensational Speaking
I Is For Intermittent
The best way to explain this
concept is with an example.
In late 2009, I was at a small
networking meeting in Ottawa that featured Katrina as
the guest speaker. Katrina is a family lawyer, and is a
very pretty young lady, and she is a regular member of
the group. Being a new member myself, I hadn’t had the
opportunity to speak with her much, so I didn’t really
know her well.
This group’s intentions are to
hold presentations that help members better understand
each other’s businesses, enabling everyone to refer
business to each other through this networking.
During her presentation, Katrina
stood behind a long table. At one end of this table, she
placed two file folders along with a white banker’s box,
and at the other end she placed a sealed garment bag.
I noticed that Katrina was
impeccably dressed. She was wearing a white blouse and
scarf with a dark jacket and dress pants, so I wondered
what the garment bag contained at the other end of the
She began her presentation with
this statement. “There are four stages to the process of
litigation for divorce.” She then began to describe a
situation that had occurred with a client of hers. Of
course, the example was real, but the identities of the
parties involved were never disclosed.
Katrina explained a bit about the
situation, and within less than a minute, she held up
the first file folder, containing a stack of papers
about three inches thick. She slammed the file folder on
the table in front of her and said, “This case was
settled at stage one, ‘negotiation.’ This represents
about five-thousand dollars in legal fees.”
With her next words, Katrina
began to unbutton her jacket. As you can imagine, this
move perked up the attention of everyone in the room.
“Why is she unbuttoning her jacket?”
With her jacket now unbuttoned,
she began to describe a second case which went beyond
the first stage of negotiation and into the second
stage, called “mediation.”
While she explained the mediation
stage, Katrina held up the second file folder which was
much thicker than the first. She slammed that folder on
top of the first folder, and said “This is stage two.
This represents about ten-thousand dollars in legal
Katrina then moved to a third
scenario in which the parties weren’t able to settle in
stage one or stage two and had to move into stage three,
“arbitration.” As she spoke, she removed her jacket,
untied the scarf that was around her neck and removed
that as well. Now she really had everyone’s attention!
While this was happening, I
thought to myself “I see what she’s going to do here.
She’s going to take those clothes off and put whatever
is in the garment bag on. I’m curious to see what
happens between stage three and stage four!” Katrina had
my undivided attention!
With her jacket and scarf now
removed, Katrina stood there, wearing a white blouse
with the top button or two unfastened. Although this
wasn’t an unusual state of dress for a professional
woman, it was a stark contrast to her fully-covered
appearance when she began her presentation only a few
minutes earlier. Katrina continued to walk us through
this interesting series of events.
Reaching into the banker’s box
this time, she retrieved several piles of paper and
slammed each of the piles onto the table. She explained
that the entire contents in this banker’s box were
generated by only one case, a case that had gone into
the third stage. That paperwork represented about
twenty-thousand dollars in legal fees.
Next, moving toward the garment
bag, she explained that this particular client was not
willing to settle, so they were going to move into stage
four, “court proceedings.”
While explaining stage four,
Katrina extracted an accessory of clothing from the
garment bag and placed the accessory around her neck,
forming a collar. She then proceeded to do up the top
buttons of her blouse. Her next move was the punch-line
of her presentation.
Reaching into her garment bag,
Katrina pulled out a black gown. This is the gown that
she wore whenever she had to represent a client in
court. In Canada, lawyers must wear a proper gown when
in court. She placed the gown around her shoulders and,
with perfect timing, she said, “Stage four is when the
gown goes on, and when the gown goes on, the gloves come
With that, she ended her
Before writing these words, I
e-mailed Katrina to ask her permission to use her
presentation as an example in this book. I had to ask
her to remind me of a few details of her presentation,
in order to give an accurate account here. I realized I
had forgotten the names of the stages; I wasn’t sure if
there were four or five stages, and I couldn’t recall
what the dollar amounts attached to each stage of the
process were, but, I certainly remembered the gist! I
also remembered that in a divorce, every stage costs
thousands of dollars more and divorces had better get
done before the gown goes on, because when the gown goes
on, the gloves come off!
You see, the brain likes gist
more than details, and with Katrina’s presentation, her
details supported the gist. If we were to ask anyone who
attended that presentation, my guess is that most of
them wouldn’t remember the exact details, but all of
them would remember the gist. Mission accomplished!
According to Dr. John Medina, the
human brain is a pattern recognition machine. Our brain
likes to be able to predict with reasonable accuracy
what is going to happen next, so we unconsciously scour
the sensory landscape trying to find patterns.
We do this so that our brain
doesn’t have to process everything from scratch every
time we experience sensory input. If our brain can
predict the likely outcome by basing its expectations on
a recognized pattern, it can relax and dedicate its
neuro-processing energy to other things. When the
outcome matches the expectation, that’s congruity.
So, let’s see how congruity was
used by Katrina’s presentation.
Katrina started her presentation,
and as she spoke, my brain was searching for patterns.
My brain identified a well-dressed lawyer at a table.
The table held files and a banker’s box on it, as well
as a garment bag. This represented a pattern that helped
me reasonably predict the outcome; Katrina was going to
speak to us and reference those files, the banker’s box
and the garment bag.
In addition, my brain expects the
pattern that people remain clothed as they give a
presentation. That’s the most recognized pattern, so the
expected outcome was that Katrina would remain clothed
during her presentation.
Another pattern emerged as
Katrina slammed the first file folder on the table and
announced, “This represents about five-thousand dollars
in legal fees.” My brain set the expectation that each
time she referenced those papers, there would be a
dollar amount attached to it.
Then, Katrina did something
profound—she violated the expectation of an existing
pattern. By unbuttoning her jacket, Katrina breached the
pattern that predicted she would remain clothed during
While Katrina unbuttoned her
jacket, my brain said, “Hey!
What’s this? This isn’t congruent with the
predicted outcome of this recognized pattern!”
This is an intermittent incongruity.
So my brain was in a bit of a
conundrum because it began questioning the predicted
outcome of a previously established pattern, and it
became more alert as it entered a stage of dissonance.
My brain needed to establish whether or not there was a
new pattern emerging so it could predict the outcome. My
brain was not relaxed!
While Katrina continued with her
presentation, my brain was not only scouring the
environment for a new pattern, but it was also
reconfirming the other known patterns to ensure that
they had not also been breached. Katrina had my full
When Katrina removed her scarf, a
new pattern was recognized and a new expectation was
set—Katrina was going to disrobe during the
presentation! But wait! There’s a garment bag there.
That was another element of the pattern, so not only was
she going to disrobe, she was going to put on a new set
of clothes. The pattern had been confirmed, the outcome
had been predicted and the expectation had been set. But
there’s a problem. The pattern had a gap. What was going
to happen between the time she took her existing clothes
off and put the replacement clothes on? Once again, my
brain searched for patterns to predict that outcome.
When Katrina first reached into
the garment bag and
donned the collar, she again breached an identified
pattern and violated the predicted outcome. My brain had
predicted that she was
going to take one set of clothes off and then put
another set of clothes on, but she didn’t do that.
She began putting the second set of clothes on
without taking the entire first set of clothes off. This
was incongruent with the pattern and presented another
Now, you might be saying “you
didn’t actually think that she was going to completely
disrobe in front of the entire room, did you?” Well, I
am a man, and we do tend to think that way! However, I
was not consciously expecting her to disrobe in front of
everyone in the room. On an unconscious level,
though, my brain predicted the outcome of a change of
clothes. How it was going to be accomplished was the gap
in the pattern due to the environment.
If I watched Katrina walk into a
change-room with a garment bag, the predicted outcome
based on that pattern would be that she would remove one
set of clothes before donning the other set of clothes.
That’s an expected outcome predicated by the recognized
pattern of going into a change room while carrying a
change of clothes.
But, in front of an audience,
there was a gap in the pattern. I could see what she was
wearing, I could see what appeared to be a change of
clothes, but the environment was wrong. The environment
was not congruent with the other two parts of the
pattern. This posed an intermittent incongruity.
Katrina’s presentation was filled
with patterns and predictable outcomes, but she inserted
just enough intermittent incongruities to keep my brain
searching for patterns and trying to predict what was
going to happen next. She had my full attention every
second of her presentation.
But there’s more!
When an incongruity occurs, the
brain is sparked to a state of alertness, and during
those split seconds, it’s able to receive and retain
more information because it’s looking for answers. So,
Katrina not only kept my brain awake, she also created
an environment where I could accept the information she
So, what’s the lesson? When
possible, insert a slight but relevant intermittent
incongruity into your presentation to maintain interest.