I know more, therefore I say more. I wrote 100 pages about a topic, which shows my mastery of that topic. I have many slides with many details about my topic, so I must know much about that topic.
I remember the first time I had a hint that these statements might not be true. My Advisor in graduate school shed the light for me. I had just handed in what I thought was a brilliant first draft of my research paper. I had read a ton. I really got it. I made many connections for myself and I thought I had synthesized the research very well. I was proud of that first draft, sure that it was going to come back with little feedback and a note that said ‘move on, fabulous start’. Not quite.
My Advisor met with me and told me it was a good start. (What? A good start?) What he explained to me has stuck with me for 20-years. He explained the difference between a good summary of what I had read and a valuable summary that the average person could read and understand. He explained to me that this very smart-sounding summary was the easy part. He wanted me to take the next and more difficult step – to summarize, synthesize, AND to make the prose something that my mother could read and enjoy. (And, by the way, my Mom is a wicked-smart woman.)
I didn’t understand. I thought I was going after the advanced degree to become an expert in area of interest. I thought I was going to grad school to join an elite group of people who could write all kinds of things that only others ‘in the group’ would be interested in. But, as he spoke to me, I started to understand. It made sense. And, it WAS the more difficult task. Much more difficult.
Fast-forward 20-years. I have submitted the first draft of a presentation at work. There is great information on those slides – all 29 of them! You guessed it- the same feedback came my way. Eileen, exactly what is the core message? What are the (maximum) three key points you want the audience to walk away with? What do you want people to actually remember at the end of your slide presentation?
Guess what – if our short term memory can hold only a limited number of ideas at once, then not too many of my 29 slides will be remembered. Every good nugget of information or insight will be competing for brain space such that not one of them will be remembered. And if I have not facilitated a connection in the brain, nothing will be remembered.
It’s about the brain. It’s about the brain and how much information it can hold at once (in working memory). And it’s about the connections that have to made in the brain to increase the likelihood things will be remembered.
So, I have developed a new habit. I won’t claim to have mastered the habit, but I ‘get it’ now. Once I have worked through my first draft of anything I am now committed to reworking it one more time. My first pass is typically from my perspective. That is, what information and message do I want to convey? What key points do I want to make? What is the ‘why’ behind my message? Notice the ‘I’ and ‘my’ in the description of that first pass.
My second pass MUST be from the perspective of the audience. From what perspective will the audience hear the message? How will my message create value for the audience? To what can I connect this message that will make sense to my audience? What are the 1-3 key messages I want to convey?
That second pass, from the perspective of the audience, is what makes the message meaningful to the audience rather than simply a way to feed my own ego.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein