Saturday, May 07, 2016

How your presentation audience will perceive your mixed messages

I found this video in my Facebook stream this morning. It's about the relationship between sound and vision. When you see the guy's lips making an "F" sound, you hear the sound "fah" and when you see the guy's lips making a "B" sound, you hear the sound "bah." But the sound is the same all the way through (with your eyes closed, it always sounds like "bah.")

This connected for me with a coaching session yesterday, where I was working with a client preparing a short presentation. In the presentation he sometimes used the pronoun "we" to refer to his team, and sometimes used "we" to refer to his team and the audience combined. I imagine this kind of confusion is quite common in organizations, where "we" covers a lot of different units of meaning.

I think the effect is another sorting problem for the brain. In the video, the brain resolves the difference between the sight and the sound by choosing one over the other. In the presentation, the audience is likely to hear the sound "we" and choose either to believe that "we" represents just the presenter's team OR that "we" represents the collective experience of the whole audience. And they'll determine whether or not "we" includes them based on what they see as they watch the presenter and the sound of his voice as he uses the term. In other words, the meaning of "we" will be determined less by the grammar or situation, and more by whether or not other sensory information supports the idea that the presenter is really playing on the same team as the audience.

The way to resolve the shifting use of the pronoun is not to script the presentation: it's to clean up the presenter's intention (either to play on the same team or to influence from outside the team). When that becomes clear, the pronouns he chooses will line up with his meaning.

The trick while presenting is not to get the audience to hear "fah" when we say "bah." It's to get the audience to hear what we are saying accurately (only "bah" means "bah").

We get there by forming such clear intentions that our automatic use of little words (like pronouns) will line up with the message we want to send.


No comments: