Presentation Tips

The Curse of Knowledge in Communication

People, Perception, and the Curse of Knowledge

One of the most difficult things to combat when you are leading, presenting, or even simply having a conversation with someone new, is yourself — specifically your knowledge and experience. That’s the curse of knowledge. According to Wikipedia, “the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.” 

In other words, it’s easy to forget that others don’t know what you know. The problem is that assuming that others share the same knowledge as you puts them at an unfair advantage when communicating with you. 

If you’re a top executive or senior leader, you need to remember that you have years of expertise tucked into that head of yours. What often happens when professionals have been immersed in their data or craft for a long time is that they aren’t able to present their ideas or data in a way that others can understand. You get the underlying meaning, but chances are that anyone who is not working closely with you will not.

Don’t let the curse of knowledge make your communications too abstract for your audiences. Take the time to think about the people you lead, or who you need to persuade or inspire, and ask yourself:

  • How can I tailor my communications to meet them where they are? 
  • How do I distill what I know down to what they need to understand me?

The first rule of communication is to know your audience. Once you’ve considered them, your job is to communicate in a way that ensures your message is not only heard, but understood.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash
5 Tips for More Engaging Meetings

5 Tips for More Engaging Conference Calls and Remote Meetings

A lot of my clients have been asking for tips for making their remote meetings more engaging. Here are 5 critical things to consider to ensure you make the best of your virtual meeting time.

1. Have a Clear Purpose and an Agenda

The main reason people tune out during calls is because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. Make sure you’ve invited the right stakeholders and are clear about why you’re holding the call. Also be sure everyone knows what you want to achieve during your time together.

2. Encourage Participation

A call that is interactive will naturally be more engaging than a lecture. Ask questions, seek input, and if you must talk for several minutes, check in with your group along the way to make sure they are following (or if they need any clarification). One way to do this is to deliver your messages by topic, one by one, and pause to encourage input or questions before moving to the next.

3. Skip the Video (Sometimes)

Video calls on Zoom or Teams can be exhausting because our eyes and brains have more to track than when on an audio-only call. This is especially true with numerous people on the call. Video calls certainly have their place and should be used when seeing each other makes sense. However, consider when a nice, audio-only phone call is the better option. 

4. Use Visuals

Even when you’re on an audio-only call, a good visual or two can help support your messages and engage participants. Consider opportunities to share a graphic or bring up a few slides over a screen share. 

5. Smile Before You Begin 

Even when the call is on the phone without any video, your audience can still sense your enthusiasm, or lack thereof. Run the call with positivity and enthusiasm. Reminding yourself to smile and exude positivity will help make others feel more engaged during the call. After all, if you don’t sound like you want to be there, why should they?

Presentation Tip: It's not easy to make things simple

Simple ≠ Easy

If you think it’s easy to make something simple, it’s not. For example, the user interface of an app or mobile device needs to be simple and easy to understand without reading a manual, right? The same is true for a presentation where you need to help an audience understand concepts or data that are unfamiliar or complex. It takes great effort to make these things more digestible and easier to understand. 

How do you do that? Through editing, refining, and rehearsing.

Here are some tips:

  • Record your presentation and watch it back. As you experience it like your audience will, try to put yourself in their shoes. Are you giving them too much background? Are you making assumptions and leaving something critical out? I use Zoom or QuickTime to record myself or my slides when I rehearse.
  • Figure out where you can edit your presentation (script and slides) to make complex points more simple. Sometimes you may need to make a slide less busy and narrate the supporting points instead. Other times you may need to inject an example or analogy into your script. And maybe you need to rewrite certain parts of the script to help explain complex concepts with words and visuals that are more appropriate to the intended audience.
  • Then rehearse again. And if you can, try to give the presentation a test drive in front of a few people who can provide feedback from the viewpoint of your intended audience. 

As Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Take the time to ensure your presentations are clean and simple. It will make them easier to present, and more effective and engaging for your audiences.

Presentation Tip from Michael Piperno

Tell Me Where to Look

When I coach people on creating powerful presentations, one of the first things we usually work on is their PowerPoint slides. Because much of the business world uses PowerPoint to share data among teams, it’s natural to want to put every data point and every clarifying message on a slide to ensure the reader will understand it—even if you’re not there to explain it.

But when you are presenting your sides, you are there to explain them. Your approach should be different. Your sides should support you. They are not meant to replace you! You want your audience to listen to you while you are leading them through your presentation. You want them to stay in the moment with you every step of the way.

When you throw up a slide that is overloaded with text or data, guess what? Your audience tunes you out, and starts to read the slide. Here are some tips for avoiding slide overload.

  • Make them more visual. If you can use a chart, graph, or image instead of text bullets, do so.
  • Use builds to reveal information. Instead of putting up a slide with 6 bullets that you will cover in the next 30 seconds, reveal each bullet as the words come out of your mouth. And remember, the bullets should be short. Your voice will provide the details; the bullets are simply visual markers for the audience.
  • Cut, cut, and then cut again. Each time you rehearse your presentation, you should be looking for opportunities to reduce the amount of content on your slides. The less cluttered they are, the faster your audience can process them.
  • Tell me where to look. When you do have to show a slide that is complex, talk your audience through where they should focus their attention. Use builds or highlight boxes that signal visually what part of the slide you’re currently referring to. This is especially important for scientific slides that include large amounts of data presented in a table or in a complex graphic. Highlight the area that underscores your point, so the audience’s eyes go right to it.

Ask yourself questions about your sides as you prepare your talk, like: “Do I really need a slide for this?” and “What’s the point of this slide?” That will force you to look for opportunities to make them more concise and visually engaging. Slides that are supportive of your narrative, and are concise and well designed, will make your presentation shine.

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