We can fall into a trap when we’re speaking to attract clients and referrals. Or when we’re out to highlight our contribution to the company and advance to a new position. Or when we’re hoping someone in the room will hear us … and hire us.
Naturally, we want the audience to think we know our stuff. We have deep knowledge so they can trust us. Oh, and we want them to like us too.
The trap is this: We think the path to that perception is giving them a lot of information.
We’re feeling generous. We want to share our expertise. Our listeners need to know about this, or they wouldn’t be sitting there.
And, truth to tell, there’s an element of ego here too. It’s important to us that they think highly of us—the more information we give them the more they’ll know how much we know. And the more they’ll appreciate us, right?
So, we talk quickly to get it all in, racing against the clock. We might even lose the race, so our 30-minute talk goes 37-minutes but that’s okay because there’s so much to say and it’s really, really important to say it and I’m important too and surely they’ll see how brilliant I am and they’ll be grateful for all I’ve given them …
And it backfires.
Instead of believing I’m brilliant and generous, and they need me … they wind up thinking I’m scattered, undisciplined and overwhelming.
And I’m so caught up in my own head that I don’t understand, or even notice, how they’re feeling about the onslaught of information. Preoccupied with my own good intentions, I’m not focused on my audience.
If this is sounding familiar, you’re not alone. Not long ago I had a conversation with an extremely enthusiastic young woman about a too-long, too-fast, too-much presentation. You know what she said: “But I have so much to tell them!!!!”
Here’s another way to think about so-much-to-tell-them.
Imagine yourself hosting Thanksgiving dinner.
Your family and friends gather at your beautifully decorated table. You’ve labored in the kitchen for days preparing for this meal. Not to mention the time you spent searching for recipes, picking the perfect produce, and choosing just the right turkey.
Even before that, you developed your cooking skills. Maybe you took a class or spent hours in your mother’s kitchen. You’ve invested a lot in perfecting your ability to prepare this delicious dinner. You can’t wait to share it with your guests.
You’re delighted when it goes well. The turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes couldn’t be better. The pumpkin pie is perfect. Your guests are ecstatic as they savor the last bite.
So, naturally, you serve them a second dinner.
You know they liked what they already ate. And you have so much food on hand. And you worked hard learning how to cook. Doesn’t it make sense to keep feeding them?
Okay, they’re glancing at each other, shuffling in their chairs, looking a little uncomfortable. You may not even notice. If you do, you’re sure those signals don’t mean a thing. You have so much delicious food for them! You’re feeling generous. You want them to think you’re a superb cook. And you want them to like you.
You get so caught up in the excitement … you might even go for Dinner Number Three.
By this time, your guests want to escape. But you’re high on the attention and the compliments and the feeling-smart-and-generous. So, you just feed them more and insist that they keep eating.
Now put yourself in the guest’s chair.
That first fabulous dinner? You enjoyed every bite.
The second one, not so much.
By the third meal, you’re nauseous. It’s too much food, too fast. You don’t like being stuffed and you really don’t like someone forcefully stuffing you.
It’s enough already. In fact, it’s more than enough. Whatever positive thoughts you had about your host; they’re evaporating in your discomfort. All you want now is … out of there.
Don’t overstuff your audience.
When you’re speaking (or when you’re serving Thanksgiving dinner) give them just enough.
A few questions will help you figure out how much information they can take in.
- Who’s your audience? Are they familiar with the subject, or are they starting from scratch?
- Do they already know you and like you or are you starting from scratch?
- What is your objective? What do you want them to walk away with after you speak?
- How much time do you have? Is it a 20-minute talk or a half-day workshop?
- Are there other speakers before or after you?
A good jumping-off point is to come up with three main things your listeners need to know. Build your talk around those three points. And resist the temptation to make it four.
The best speakers keep their listeners in mind always. They tailor what they say… and how much they say … to meet the audience’s needs instead of their own.
Maybe you’ve overserved an audience? Or maybe you’ve sat there wishing some speaker would stop, for heaven’s sake.
Post a comment below and share your experience. (Or your favorite Thanksgiving recipe … )
Perfect topic, perfect timing. Also applies to art. Thank you.
Thanks, Leslie. I’m glad it hit the spot. I bet the same idea does apply to art—-I can imagine painting to “just right” and then adding one more brush stroke that throws the whole thing off. Knowing when to say “when” is always the key, isn’t it?
I LOVE this!
Thanks, Kelly! I’m out to prevent all of us from being drowned in information. (Or cranberry sauce.)
I LOVE this!
It is always easier to understand at a simpler level, thank you for another great “ah ha” moment. I have the good fortune to talk to only 3-4 people at a time which makes it a snap to figure out the “TMI” point, you can see them start to fade away.
The greatest take away from this one I believe is the “who is your audience.” you can’t talk trig to a group of kindergartners!
You have such a way with words, Jacques! Yes, trig-to-kindergartners won’t work. And whoever they are, when they start to fade away it’s time to say goodbye! Thanks for being in touch, Kiddo.
Nice analogy! Great advice overload is counterproductive. I remember when I was first training people I was told to do 3 hour time blocks by my boss. I could see their eyes glazing over in a much shorter time frame. I started chunking the material and varying presentation methods. Thanks for this perspective. Hope you have a good Thanksgiving.
Kathy, sometimes it comes from ego, but often I think speakers, trainers, teachers and others are just so eager to share what they know that they overdo it. Motivated by a genuine desire to help, they smother us in more than we can handle. It’s a good lesson for all of us to keep in mind.
Catherine, I LOVE your analogies! I will never forget the image of serving two (or three) Thanksgiving dinners to my audience!
Thanks, Ellen! It creates a vivid mental picture, doesn’t it? And reminds us to give them just-enough. Of turkey and dressing…or of information.
I will use this as a tool for upcoming job interviews. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.
Job interviews are a key place where we tend to say too much. Out of nervousness, maybe, plus a desire to really make sure they know how valuable we would be to them. Turns out repetition often dilutes the point. Let me know how the search goes. And Happy Thanksgiving to you too.
Thank you AS ALWAYS Catherine for your wit and your insight! Happy Thanksgiving!
It’s my pleasure, Love Ann. I get a kick out of this connection between speaking and Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving to you too????????
But Catherine, you’re a really good cook! And you have so much good food!
I wonder if I can enjoy that one delicious meal thoroughly…and then be invited back to have another and another and another on several dinner dates in the future? Oh, and BTW…can I bring friends to your next meal gathering? Yes, I understand, I will have to pay for the food. And because it’s so good…I will pay a premium price for this experience again!
LOVED this metaphor! Great, useable advice!
Yes, to several dinner dates in the future, Karen! SPACED repetition is the key.
Glad you dug it! (And you’re welcome back anytime.)
So timely – and so relevant in the insurance industry! Happy Thanksgiving to you!
And the insurance industry’s not alone, Meg! All of us, in just about every business, need to be mindful of giving our listeners just enough. It’s easy to offer more than they can take in and enjoy.
Youi are so right as always! Yes – this has happened to me more than I care to admit. It truly is an ego thing for me. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for all you share!
Seeing it’s the first step to changing it, right, Gale? Thank YOU for reading and responding and being with me on the journey.