January 17, 2008

Are you speaking your audience's language?

We stopped by a new patisserie in our neighborhood last week. Very exciting - beautiful French pastries made from scratch right there in the bakery.

You may not realize it, but many bakeries offer either frozen and defrosted products brought in from elsewhere, or are making their desserts from commercial boxed mixes with all kinds of mystery ingredients (hubby has spent twenty years in the specialty foods industry, part of that as a pastry chef, and knows way too much about the behind-the-scenes of the food industry).

So when I can get fresh, handmade pastries made with real butter, real fruit, and care, well, that's just about heaven.

As we were waiting to pay for our treats, an elderly man stood in front of the case perusing the pastries. A woman asked if she could help him.

He asked, "What's the one with the glaze on it?"

She said, "The chou?"

He looked at her with confusion.

"This one, the round one with the glaze."

She said, "That's the caramel glazed chou."

Now, if you don't know French pastry terms, "chou" (plural "choux") is the type of dough used to make a small, round light pastry, often with a cream filling - a profiterole or cream puff.

If you don't know French pastry terms, someone just asked you if you'd like the "shoe."

How much more helpful would it have been for her to say, "The one with the glaze is a caramel glazed cream puff - it's called a chou pastry"?

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about "tappers and listeners," from a 1990 study in which "tappers" tapped out the rhythm of a well-known song (like Happy Birthday) to "listeners" who were supposed to try to guess each song.

Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs, while tappers had predicted that the listeners would guess 50 percent of the songs, and were flabbergasted that the listeners were so dense.

The tappers thought the listeners would guess the songs, because they were hearing the songs in their own heads!

The tappers have what the Heath brothers call the "Curse of Knowledge." When you know something, it's hard to imagine what it's like not to know it.

We assume others know what we know, and get frustrated when they don't get what we're talking about.

You can still educate your audience about your terminology or expressions, or use words they don't know, but you can also do it without making them feel stupid.

If you're going to use industry jargon or lingo, always explain yourself.

Better yet, don't use it at all.

Now please excuse me while I go eat a shoe.

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

"In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about "tappers and listeners," from a 1990 study in which "tappers" tapped out the rhythm of a well-known song (like Happy Birthday) to "listeners" who were supposed to try to guess each song."

I used this as a demonstration during a presentation.

I did it once. Asked for guesses... told them the answer... and did it again.

They told me I played much better the second time. :)

Very effective technique.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I couldn't help singing in my head "Savez-vous planter les choux?"...let me tap it out for you!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I'm definitely going to incorporate the tapping exercise into a workshop. It's so concrete!

Jacki, it's too bad I don't know that song. You could tap all day and I'd never get it. :-)

Anonymous said...

I try to do that when working with parents of the newborns I screen. The key is not to act like I'm talking down...but to make it very very simple and in completely non-medical terms.

So instead of saying, "This is the otoacoustic emissions test where we measure response to a stimulus of 1-4 kHz with a passing level of 6 dB for 2-4 kHz and 3 dB for 1-1.5 kHz," I say "I'm going to put this probe in your baby's ear. It'll emit a soft clicking sound and our computer measures the ear's response. The probe has a microphone which will pick up on the sound wave echoes once it bounces off the eardrum."

Lisa Braithwaite said...

And I'm sure the parents appreciate it, Mrs. Micah!

Unknown said...

I just found this post via one of your most recent ones, and really like the example and message here. (My friends and I used to play the tap game when we were children!)

Knowledge is often completely taken for granted, and care should be taken with terminology used. After all, language is the biggest barrier to communication...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! Language is certainly critical in communication!

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