Misunderstanding is the norm

We tend to assume that our audience understands what we mean and that misunderstanding is an anomaly in communication. I think it’s much more helpful to assume the opposite.

Misunderstanding is not an anomaly but the norm. More often than not – even when it doesn’t seem so – people have a different understanding of things than us.

When we say “eager” they see something different than we do. When we say “2 billion” it might seem not much to them while it seems much for us.

It helps a lot to keep that in mind when communicating. If in doubt, assume that your audience will misunderstand what you say and increase clarity.

The things we see

The only reason to give a talk is that there’s a gap between what your audience sees and what you see.

The purpose of a talk is to make your audience see what you see.

Of course, it’s so much easier if you don’t worry about that. You just speak about your topic for 30 minutes and when everything is said, you are done.

Yet, the point of a talk is not to be delivered but to change minds. The only way to achieve that is to acknowledge the gap and see your audience first. Where are they coming from? What’s their worldview? How do they see things?

And then take them on a journey to see things from your perspective.

Turn on the light

You see things that I don’t.

The beauty of communication is that for most things I don’t need to be you to see them as well. I don’t need to make the same experiences as you did in order for you to let me in to your experiences. I don’t need to have the same education as you in order for you to make me understand the things that you’ve understood.

You can make me see through the power of communication.

Wouldn’t it be great if 2021 was a year in which we focussed on exactly that? I’d sure love it.

What would you want us to see? Turn on the lights and make us see!

10 eyewitnesses

If, after a car accident, you ask 10 eyewitnesses what they saw, you will hear 10 different versions of the same accident, possibly even contradictory ones. None of the 10 eyewitnesses is lying. None is trying to deceive you. Each one is merely recounting the truth in exactly the way they recall it.

Don’t expect that to be different for a speech. We shouldn’t assume that what we say will be recalled by our audiences in exactly the way we mean it. We shouldn’t even assume that what we say will be heard exactly like we say it. Or that what we show will be seen just like we see it. Or that what someone from your audience will say about your speech tomorrow, will correspond to what they are hearing today.

Each one of us has their own reality. We relate new information to this reality. Therefore, we may conclude different things from the same information than others do. Neither of us makes a mistake. It’s just the way that our brains work.

As a speaker, it’s a fact we have to deal with.

If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it

End of story.

There’s really no point in insisting that you’ve mentioned it on slide 17. They didn’t get it.

Much better to just take the feedback to grow. Reflect your words and then, next time, try to make your point even clearer.

The presenter’s job

This is usually easy: to make sure that the information in a presentation is correct. That there are no mistakes in the data. That it’s complete. That we didn’t miss anything.

This is usually much harder: to make sure that our audience gets it. What does the data mean? How does this work? Why does it matter?

This is the least we should strive for.

Too many presenters stop at being correct. They consider their job to be to deliver the info.

It’s not.

Their job is to create understanding. The purpose of a presentation isn’t to be delivered but to be understood – if not to change minds.

When someone grants us 30 minutes of their time, the least we should do is to speak with clarity so they get what we mean.

Where are your customers coming from?

To take an audience where you want to go requires understanding where they are coming from.

Because what gets us there is often not what gets others there, too. We’ve gone our ways, made our experiences, and learnt our lessons. Specifically, we’ve learnt our lessons. Not theirs. What brings us there, might or might not work for them – for whatever reason.

When we say “easy”, it means different things for us than it does for them. When we say “fair”, we see different stories than they do. When we say “$10,000”, it might be a lot more for them than it is for us.

As much as we like to think that things are obvious, often they are not.

Where are your customers coming from?

Why people aren’t buying from you

Because this is how you communicate your product:

The active ingredient inhibits the body’s own formation of messenger substances, the so-called prostaglandins, which increase the sensitivity of the pain receptors in the body. By inhibiting their formation, the increased excitability of the pain receptors at the nerve endings is reduced and the pain and inflammatory symptoms subside.

Of course, sooner or later marketing comes along and argues that you need a fancy packaging. With a beautiful logo on it and bright colors that make it stand out on the shelves.

But somehow that didn’t work, either.

So, performance marketing comes along and says that this is what you need to say:

Hey, look, if you don‘t buy just one of these litte white pills, but three, we’ll give you a coupon that’ll save you 10 bucks the next time you buy five of the pills. You’ll just need to scan the receipt and email it to this address …

Well, somehow that didn’t work, either. So, you build a funnel. And an Instagram channel. You design landing pages for each target group and host live webinars. You discover TikTok as the next big thing.

And then, you’ve really got a headache. Which makes you realize how easy everything was from the beginning:

Got a headache? This pill will make it go away.

So many communicators just forget to tell us what their product is for. Until people know, most of them just don’t care. But when they know and when they have that problem, they will want you to tell them more.

The driver’s seat

Time’s serial. It just passes by.

When we read a book, we are in control of the pace with wich we process the information. We can slow down to read less in a given amount of time. We can also skip ahead or turn a few pages back to re-read some information that we need to refresh.

When listening to a speech we can‘t do any of that. We are not in the driver’s seat. The speaker is. If she’s driving too fast, we’ll miss the point. If she’s choosing a bumpy road, we‘re probably not going to enjoy the ride. If she’s driving too slow, we’re likely going to fall asleep.

As a speaker, being aware of that helps a lot in making the ride more enjoyable and satisfying for our audience. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone enjoys the same kind of ride. While some love the feeling of a sports car others prefer the feeling of a well-balanced limousine.

Jonglieren mit Gedanken

Fast jeder kann mit zwei Bällen jonglieren. Mit drei können viele. Vier sind schon schwer, noch mehr kann kaum jemand.

Mehrere Dinge gleichzeitig im Kopf zu behalten, ist ganz ähnlich … Zwei? Ist einfach. Drei? Auch noch. Ab vier wird’s schwieriger und danach knackig. Je komplizierter die Dinge sind, die man im Kopf behalten muss, desto knackiger.

Wenn Sie mit zu vielen Bällen in Ihrem Vortrag jonglieren, wird’s auch für Ihre Zuhörer schwierig. Die Zuhörer lassen Bälle fallen und während sie noch damit beschäftigt sind sie aufzuheben, fallen schon die nächsten.

Leider sind aber die meisten Themen, gerade die, die es wert sind, Thema einer Präsentation zu sein, kompliziert. Da kommt man einfach nicht mit ein paar Bällen aus.

Zum Glück haben Gedanken allerdings eine Eigenschaft, die echte Jonglier-Bälle nicht besitzen. Gedanken können sich zu größeren Gedanken zusammenfügen. Gedanken können andere Gedanken triggern. Aus Äpfeln, Birnen und Bananen wird Obst. Aus Obst, Gemüse und Getreide wird vegetarische Ernährung. Vegetarische Ernährung hat Effekte, die Sie durch eine Geschichte erst veranschaulichen und dann abstrahieren, um daraus eine konkrete Ernährungsempfehlung abzuleiten. Zu jedem Zeitpunkt halten Sie höchstens vier Bälle in der Luft, so dass jeder mühelos folgen kann. Komplex in der Konstruktion, einfach in der Erzählung.

Mit einer klaren Story und einer klaren Struktur können Sie äußerst komplexe Dinge in die Köpfe der Zuhörer bringen, solange Sie die Komplexität sinnvoll und Schritt-für-Schritt aufbauen.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz