I was running a workshop on storytelling for a group of senior executives. These were all experts in their areas and could reel off everything you ever wanted to know about analytics, cloud computing and mobility. Their presentations comprised dense data-packed slides. I asked, "How many of them are techies who can match you acronym for acronym?"
They all said they were presenting this to a group of senior business leaders, none of whom were even remotely tech savvy - that is why they wanted to put in as much information as possible to help them understand.
This is called the 'Presenter's Paradox.' Our instincts about selling - ourselves, our company, or our products - can be surprisingly bad. In our eagerness to convey every morsel of information, we cloud the meaning of the message.
The experts convey information. Novices can convey meaning. The novice will tell you the jars of Nutella produced in a year, joined end to end, would be as long as the earth's circumference. Conveying the same information in tonnes would never be as memorable. Most business presentations suffer from too much information and not enough time spent explaining the implications of that meaning.
Telling someone your USB drive has 10 gigabytes of storage is useful information. But when you say one gigabyte is the rough equivalent of 200 songs, it conveys a meaning that is hard to forget.
The academic circle is hotly debating the merit of Therese Huston's new book, 'Teaching What You Don't Know.' Therese lists three arguments in favour of novices. The first is that they have a more realistic way of estimating how long it will take for the learner to do an assignment.
The novice can also better imagine the kind of mistakes and false moves the beginner will make before they can complete the task.
The novice has the ability to explain concepts by drawing on everyday experience and common knowledge. So the student finds it easy to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar as they learn the ropes of a new subject.
The findings ring true even for presentations. Expertise often comes in the way of clarity and brevity - crucial components that make a message memorable. The more erudite the speaker, the harder it is to comprehend what he or she is saying. I have often come back from a talk praising the expertise of a speaker because I did not comprehend what he said. It takes a novice to say that the "emperor has no clothes." Most business presentations would take less time and be more effective if the information would first be tailored to be understood by a novice.
The novice can see the tiny flower blooming unnoticed in the weeds. He or she brings in a perspective in a world increasingly heavy with information and deficit in attention. The next time you are presenting, seek the help of a novice to peel away the verbiage and discover the story that lies inside every presentation.