Speaking: The Song in Your Head

When people are speaking they sometimes state a fact, give an example or tell a story that they think will impress people, but then it doesn't. Their speech or presentation doesn't make an impact, or can even have the opposite effect. In these cases the speaker is sure that they have a winning argument and they are frustrated when it fails.

This happens because the speaker gives their facts or tells their story but without some essential context. Because they have this context in their head they can fill in the gaps and complete the story, so they feel that the point they are making is obvious. People in the audience lack this context, so they interpret the same facts or stories in a different and sometimes completely opposite way.

I call this the "Song in your head" problem because it reminds me of a children's game where one person taps just the rhythm to a song and challenges others to recognize it. Quite surprisingly even the best known songs can be unrecognizable without the other components. When I ask people to try this exercise they are often amazed that a song that they believe is obvious goes unrecognized by people who should know it. But the problem is that the person tapping the rhythm hears the song in their head while the others hear only tapping. That's what's happening when you share some knowledge without key context: you hear the song in your head and you cannot understand why other people don't get it.

Finding out what is the missing context and adding it to your presentation is sometimes quite difficult, but it can be done and you can do it systematically. The secret is to test all your ideas on people before you use them in an important speech, presentation or talk. Try some of your messages on friends, colleagues or anyone who will listen, then ask them for their feedback. This will help you to identify exactly which background information they are missing that would make it possible for them to understand what you mean.

This lack of shared context undermines many attempts at communication. You need to first be aware of it but when you are then it becomes more likely that you will try to understand how others view your ideas and how you need to complete your speech with the missing context.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about speaking skills and other communication topics contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com


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