The Little Guy–or Gal–in Your Basement

A man walks into a bar and orders a drink. After sitting for a few minutes, he hears a voice say, “Nice tie.” He looks around but doesn’t see anyone near him. Some time passes and he hears the same voice say, “Nice shirt.” This time he looks everywhere but he doesn’t see anyone. A few minutes later he hears, “Nice haircut.” He can’t stand it any more, so he calls the bartender over and tells him he has been hearing this voice but can’t figure out who is speaking. The bartender says, “Oh, that…that’s the nuts…they’re complimentary.”

You may not hear voices, but if sometimes a great idea or phrase comes to you unexpectedly, it may seem like a voice from nowhere. Lou Heckler calls this phenomenon “the little guy in the basement.” The idea is that “a little guy in the basement” has a trap door in my brain that he sometimes opens to shoot in a suggestion as to what I should say next. (Yours may be a “little gal in the basement.”) I have a split-second moment to reject the idea or to speak it. If you have this experience, my recommendation is to speak it! You may call it intuition or the light bulb going on in the brain; whatever you call it, use it. I have found that some of my best material either in a conversation or a presentation comes to me from the “little guy in the basement.”

I’d like to suggest some techniques that will cultivate the little voice that will prompt you as you speak. One important way is to spend as much time as possible thinking about your conversation or presentation before you speak. When I have an important meeting to prepare for, I go through the conversation in my mind, picturing different ways of approaching the situation. The more time I spend pondering the dialogue, the more frequently the little voice speaks to me during the conversation. During my practice sessions for a presentation, the little voice will sometimes give me words that I had never thought about. I quickly write down the new words or phrases that came to me during the practice session.

Another way to cultivate the little voice is simply to go with the flow. A conversation may be going in a different direction from what you had planned. Instead of trying to bring the conversation back to the point you had anticipated making, just go with the line of thought the other person has taken. Sometimes the little voice will give you essential input to clear up any ambiguities. During a presentation, occasionally I will say something that was not in my notes. Instead of retracing my thought process, if I just continue on that thought pattern, the little voice will often provide essential direction. If I try to get back on track, I sometimes stumble and hesitate because I seem to be forcing the direction of my message. If I continue in the alternative direction, there are more opportunities for my intuition or little voice to guide me. You may find the same to be true.

A third suggestion is to be present before you make a speech or share your ideas. Listening to other people speak before you speak will sometimes set the stage for intuition to guide you when you make a contribution. Knowing the tenor of the meeting by listening first will sometimes encourage the little voice to speak to you.

When voices start speaking to you, you may not be losing mental capability. Instead you are simply developing better content in your message by paying attention to “the little guy in the basement.” In fact, I am in agreement with the person who said, “Nine out of ten voices in my head agree that I am sane.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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