September 4, 2014

Drowning your audience? Try these 3 lifesavers.



I'm currently participating in the Bloom Your Online Relationships Challenge, a 30-day free program to encourage relationship-building with our online communities, and today's challenge dovetails perfectly with a post I've been wanting to write. (P.S. My offering in the BYOR challenge comes up on September 15, so make sure to sign up so you can get my tip!)

Today's challenge is about "being incomplete," leaving out details so others can participate and fill in the gaps.

And recently, I've had conversations with a couple of speakers who have a really hard time with this.

The conversation usually goes something like this: "I have too much to say in X amount of time." Or, "I have trouble explaining what I do because it's so complex and detailed." Or, "People just don't get it."

And these comments come with an exasperated tone and a clear disappointment in the audience, that the audience is just too clueless to understand without lots of lecturing.

What I really want to say when I hear this is "Get over yourself!" But that wouldn't be very constructive.

Here's what I mean.

Speakers and subject matter experts often suffer from the "Curse of Knowledge," described by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick as what happens when our knowledge about a subject becomes so great that we have trouble communicating that knowledge to others. It becomes so hard for us to imagine NOT knowing what we know, that we can't fathom how others don't understand us when we share.

We speak over our audiences' heads, we give far too much detail, and we pack our presentations so full of information that our audiences leave numb and slack-jawed from the mental barrage.

And do they retain anything? Not much! Especially when all this information and detail is delivered in lecture format. Because some of us are so convinced that we need to use every minute to speak that we forget about interaction and engagement.

How can you fight the Curse of Knowledge? Don't just expect your audience to approach your topic with beginner's mind and to be open to new ideas, but approach it yourself with beginner's mind.

Even if you've given the same presentation a hundred times, next time you prepare for an engagement, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What does the audience really need, want and care about?

2. Is there enough white space for them to think about and process your ideas?

3. How can you help the audience best grasp your ideas through activities, questions, and engagement?

[What else would you add? Is one of these harder for you than the others? Please share in the comments!]

And I'm serious when I say "Get over yourself." Nobody can share everything they know about a subject in the kind of time frame we have for presenting. It's a given. It doesn't mean you're that much smarter than everyone else, or that your topic is so much more complex than your audience can ever understand.

It just means that you know a lot! Which is why you've been invited to speak. So enjoy it, and remember that your knowledge comes with responsibility.

Always remember that it's your job to make sure that you present in a way that your audience can gain value and relevant tools to make their lives and work better. If your audience doesn't get it, take a look in the mirror (or at your video, which I hope you record from time to time).

And figure out what you can do to make your topic accessible and yourself approachable to your audience by creating a presentation that doesn't drown them in information, but rather leaves them feeling curious, intrigued and wanting more.

What else can you do to fight the Curse of Knowledge in your presentations? Please share in the comments!

14 comments. Please add yours! :

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef said...

I usually preface all my classes with, "We could spend months on this topic, but we've only got an hour." (Or whatever the time period is.) This is my way of reminding myself and others that there's NO way we can cover everything that needs to be said. And I think it helps me feel less guilty about that, too. I've also begun breaking down my lessons into smaller chunks -- not more than 3 points at a time. This helps me focus (What are the 3 most important things they need to know?). Great post, Lisa! So glad we've got you helping us with BYOR30

Caroline van Kimmenade said...

This

is a great article! Really got me thinking. I especially love the idea
of bringing enough white space in for people (It can be hard when trying
to connect the dots, and the next dot and the next dot and the next dot
for people...and basically, you're always seeing that next dot on the
horizon). I've also started to use the approach Tea described: to let
people know: this is what I possible in the given time, whether it's a
group call, or a private session, or a "can you help me" email request
from someone. I recently did a community call and sat down beforehand to
make a presentation with a few key ideas and basic structure. I didn't
know if I'd be using it, but it gave me a framework to tie everything
together with (it was basically a Q&A call) and in that way set some
boundaries for myself in terms of my own expectations for myself! It's
still SO EASY to underestimate what you can share in a limited amount of
time. And let's not forget: we all have a limited "absorption ability".
When we're overfed, all the info starts to run together and get saggy.

EncinoMom said...

Great post, Lisa! As an audience member, I always benefit from "white space" and activities that illustrate the speaker's point. It is so much more gratifying to have my interest piqued rather than sated or drowned. Thanks for a great example of "incomplete" writing! Now you've really got me thinking! #BYOR30

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for commenting, Tea! Breaking down lessons into smaller chunk helps you AND the audience focus better. And that's a win-win. Be careful about the preface of "We don't have enough time." There are several reasons why I recommend against this, but one major one is that it diminishes your current presentation in favor of other, longer classes you may give. Also, it flat out TAKES TIME to talk about the time you don't have! Here's the full blog post on that topic if you want to read it: http://www.speakschmeak.com/2008/07/dont-waste-time-talking-about-time.html.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Caroline, I like your approach of "letting people know what's possible in the given time." It's a positive approach about possibility rather than a negative approach of lacking time. See my comment to Tea about prefacing a talk with "I usually spend X hours on this" or "We could talk about this for X hours, but I only have this much time." I totally agree about the limited absorption ability! And saggy is a good description for how our minds get when there's too much!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lisa! Glad I could give you something to think about!

Caroline van Kimmenade said...

Thanks Lisa! One big thing I'm learning is that more is not necessary better. If people crave and want an appetiser, but I were to feel bad about not being able to feed them a 6-course meal -well, it just makes things unnecessarily weird. It think with learning and teaching, we have to remind ourselves that we can't condense years of processing into a single afternoon, no matter how well we present something, and also, that it can be frustrating (seen from the other end of the table) to ask someone what we think is a simple question, and then have them wikipedia all over us!

That said, what I can really struggle with is the questions asked that really do not have a simple answer. The "how do I change my life" kind of things, where people WANT a tiny spoon of something, but there's no way that that would really help. Do you have any tips for how to address those kinds of things without wikipediaing all over someone or going into "well, that's just impossible!" mode/frustration? It points to what you're saying about needing to be a beginner about this.

To put it in presentation terms. How would you respond if someone asked you to address a topic in a short speech, that you felt was just completely unsuitable to address in such a short speech at all? Would you find a way to bridge that seeming gap, and give the speech anyway? (aka - is it our problem and our job to find a way to say something useful anyway) Or would tell someone "no" - and if so, is there a strategy for explaining this to them?

Hope this makes sense as a question!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Caroline! Regarding your question about an audience member asking a question that's more than can be tackled in the time allotted, I always let people know that they can talk to me afterward (and I do stick around -- never good to just run out the door after a presentation) or e-mail me and I'm happy to chat for a few minutes. If I don't have time to get into a detailed response, I might give a nutshell-type response and ask them to follow up with me later, or if there is no nutshell response, I ask them to follow up with me later. :-)

Mary Muse Charmer said...

What a great article! As an author who helps others find their story, I tend to approach everything from a "writing a book" mindset. It's hard for me not to get wordy. You did a great job of explaining this topic in an easy to approach way. :)

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Mary Muse Charmer! Speakers and writers can both be pretty wordy, can't we? :-)

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef said...

Thanks for the warning! I read your post and agree -- that woman probably sounded pretty lame. Those are all ways I *don't* do it. I never say it more than once. I never take more than 6 words to say it. I never EVER say I'm trying to give them the same content I give in a longer/better course/presentation. And I don't say it in a hurried way or even every time. Usually, when I'm giving presentations, they run about an hour. And I like to write people's questions down on the board or an easel pad or take them via index card ahead of time. I want to personalize the presentation as much as possible and make sure I'm not giving them information they don't want or need. So if there are TONS of questions, I'll say "we could talk about these in a semester-long course, right?" as a way to show folks there's a lot of meat to this topic. Meat they may want to learn more about later. Not ever said apologetically. But I'll watch myself in the future just to be sure. ;-)

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That sounds perfect, Tea. :-) There's definitely a fine line between, "There's so much about this topic we could cover," and "Sheesh, I don't have enough time, so I'm going to keep complaining about it!" And I think most of our audiences realize we're not giving the complete encyclopedia of our topic, but our audiences are always going to want more, and as long as we make it clear to them how they can get more, they should be pretty satisfied!


Regarding taking questions in advance... when I'm speaking for an organization where it's easy to contact attendees before the engagement, I sent a surveymonkey survey to the organizer and ask them to send it to attendees, so I get that information well in advance and can build some of it in. I don't often get more than a 50% response, but it's a start.

Caroline van Kimmenade said...

Thanks Lisa!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

You're welcome, Caroline!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...