The Speech Industry Eyes Another NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

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Since the earliest days of humanity, people have been seeking ways to influence others, whether for self-preservation, safety, or building wealth. Modern-day marketers continue this pursuit, aided today by technology that is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and potentially more adept at using algorithms to effectively influence the opinions, attitudes, and actions of others.

That’s where concepts like neuro-linguistic programming come into play.

Neuro-linguistic programming is the identification of conscious and below-conscious strategies used by successful individuals with the aid of techniques and tools to help them reach specific personal goals, says Shelle Rose Charvet, a neuro-linguistic consultant and trainer for more than 35 years and author of Words That Change Minds. Charvet helps companies use neuro-linguistic programming in their marketing to understand their customers, how they make buying decisions, and what kind of language will get them the outcomes they want.

The sales and marketing implications of neuro-linguistic programming are obvious. But what if those implications could be automated? That potential is already being realized through technology, and speech is one of the primary avenues for this.

But before delving into the speech connection, it is important to first understand the concept of neuro-linguistic programming itself.

“This process is called modeling, which is used in many fields to distill successful strategies,” Charvet says. “It examines thoughts, language, and patterns of behavior that create specific outcomes.”

Neuro-linguistic programming first came into use in the 1970s to help treat a number of psychological disorders, like phobias and anxiety.

Lately, neuro-linguistic programming has gained a foothold in the sales and marketing realms. Valerie Fischer, for instance, helps online business owners increase revenue growth using “brain science selling,” a term she coined combining her experience with neuro-linguistic programming and her advertising and marketing background.

Fischer says that it’s helpful to break down the term “neuro-linguistic programming” into its three parts:

  • neuro, which refers to the brain;
  • linguistic, which refers to language; and
  • programming, which refers to the ways in which our brains are conditioned to respond in specific ways to specific types of stimuli.

Individuals have different perceptions of the stimuli they encounter and the thoughts about these encounters, and then they label these experiences, or thoughts, Fischer says. The labels applied to those thoughts are based on how we have been programmed over the years.

Neuro-linguistic programming concepts are extremely useful in marketing because, Fischer says, “Once you understand how people think and how their brains actually work, you can craft the right messaging, the proper communication with them.”

Having that “really deep” understanding, she says, is critical. “You have to know the words that they use, and you have to know their nuances, because those are the words that you will use back to them to create rapport.”

Rapport is the second step in a five-step framework that Fischer developed. Fischer’s framework (called PRIME), focuses on the following:

  • priming
  • rapport
  • intent
  • Meta/Milton models
  • emotions

Priming is a neuro-linguistic programming concept in which people lay the foundation for the interaction by nurturing their audiences.

Rapport is also obviously critical in connecting with others, Fischer says. Trust must be established, and that needs to happen before some kind of offer is made. She likens this to attending a party where you’re meeting new people. The first words out of your mouth aren’t going to be about selling them something. And, yet, in the digital environment—on social media channels, for instance—these are often metaphorically the first words out of many marketers’ mouths.

Intent deals with the communication, which Fischer says “has to really come from the heart. It has to be authentic, or people will see through you; even if it’s digital, they will see through you.”

The Meta Model uses specificity to help people narrow down their true problems or needs. The Milton Model is named after Milton H. Erickson, considered the grandfather of hypnotherapy. It refers to using abstract or ambiguous language to encourage people to enter deeper reflective states.

And last is emotion. “We don’t actually sell products, we sell emotions,” Fischer says. We often do that by telling stories, which create emotions, and focus on benefits rather than features.

Charvet developed software that automatically identifies neuro-linguistic patterns in text and helps people find the correct language to use to increase the likelihood of a positive response. But speech development also stands to benefit.

Colin Barker, cofounder of Filtersmart.com, says that “systems based on neuro-linguistic programming and speech development tech are used for human-human communication, like language translation, as well as human-machine communication, like virtual assistants. The technology is getting adopted across all sectors to aid in clients’ inquiries or comments and to convert this into solutions.” This, he says further, could help companies increase efficiencies and save costs.

The speech industry can benefit from this because neuro-linguistic programming shortens the learning curve and enables customization of processes to individual preferences, Charvet says. And now that can be done automatically, almost.

Charvet posits this scenario: What if Amazon’s Alexa could respond differently depending on whether a person wants to know what options are available for solving a problem, or whether the person would prefer step-by-step instructions for solving it? A person who needs options asks the question differently than someone looking for the right way to solve it. Someone who wants options might say: “What are my choices for solving…?” “What alternatives are there to…? “Is there any way to get…?” Someone who wants a process might say: “How do I solve…?” “What is the right way to…?” “What’s the process for…?”

With neuro-linguistic programming, she says, “you can easily identify how to customize a process or technology for individual preferences.”

Charvet’s software has “algorithms to automatically detect these and other pattern differences to customize the answers to the way of thinking of the person.” This enables automatic customization for the person, avoiding miscommunications, she says. The software, called Libretta, helps users find the right words to use in messaging to make their words more persuasive. “It analyzes language structure and guides users to choose language that matches the motivations of respondents,” she says.

“The speech industry, through artificial intelligence and analytics, has become very sophisticated in the detection and utilization of emotions, values, demographics, filtering background noises, and other aspects,” Charvet says, noting that this portion of the industry is growing by 20 percent per year and is expected to reach $3.8 billion by 2025.

Thomas Schroeck, CEO of C10Plus Consulting, also sees potential here. Schroeck works as a systemic coach and hypnotherapist and was trained by Richard Bandler, one of the creators of neuro-linguistic programming.

Right now, Schroeck says, “speech recognition software works in a fairly straightforward fashion, delivering a simple output via a spoken input.” In the future, though, voice assistants could be used more broadly by programming the machine to recognize the communication style of a person, adapt search results to users’ needs and learning behaviors, or use different wording for different users, he says.

In fact, Schroeck says, there might also be therapeutic applications. “As AI advances, a voice assistant might replace a human therapist.” This, he says, could be used “when seeking to modify a negative behavior by applying neuro-linguistic programming-based conversational techniques.” In addition, he notes that since neuro-linguistic programming has been used for decades to make sales representatives more effective, “this could also mean that voice technology might eventually cover for or replace [customer experience] and sales staff, much like chatbots already do.”

While its possibilities are huge, not all are enamored with neuro-linguistic programming. Orin Davis, principal investigator at the Quality of Life Laboratory, is among them.

“Basically, neuro-linguistic programming is irrelevant to speech technology,” he says. “It is pseudo-science.… It’s efficacy is limited, as is its replicability and therapeutic value. Having a machine attempting to engage in [neuro-linguistic programming] wouldn’t really make sense.”

It’s hard to predict exactly what role neuro-linguistic programming will play in speech technology in the future. Suffice it to say, though, that while some might doubt its efficacy, others are eager to embrace the potential for technology to address the age-old desire for influence in an increasingly digital environment. 

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.

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