Stuck in a Distracting Thought
Lisa was telling a captivating story to our coaching group. And it had my full attention. She’d lost a large amount of weight, over 80 pounds.
One part of her story involved being on a weight-loss TV show. One of the hosts was John Cena.
She shared this part of her story and then moved on to the next vignette. We stopped her.
“Lisa, imagine you’re in the audience and you heard that reference to John Cena, and don’t know who he is.”
What would you do?
She thought for a moment and said, “I guess I’d start wondering, who did she say? John who?
“I’d be distracted. I probably wouldn’t hear the next thing the speaker said.”
Lisa had committed one of the most common storytelling mistakes I see. She made the assumption everyone in her audience was familiar with her references.
She was suffering from…
The Curse of Knowledge
I first read about this concept in the book, ‘Made to Stick’ by Dan and Chip Heath.
It refers to the mindset of being so familiar with your topic you forget what it’s like NOT to know it. And this creates a disconnect with your audience.
When you make a reference your audience isn’t familiar with, they immediately stop listening to you. Instead, these kinds of thoughts run their heads:
Or, they’ll think…
John Cena…. John Cena.
Isn’t he an entertainer?
Or, ‘Isn’t he that actor guy?’
Whatever they’re thinking, you’re in trouble. The people distracted by this reference are not listening to you. You’ve moved on but they’re ‘lost in thought’ and not hearing you.
You know what this means for the rest of your speech, right?
It’s as if you were driving down the highway with them, but suddenly took a side road that’s not on any map or GPS, then pushed them out of the car to fend for themselves, and got back on the highway by yourself.
A missed opportunity to make a lasting impression
How do you solve this problem?
It’s actually easy.
In the John Cena example above, Lisa could have set up the reference like this:
“One of the stars of the show was former wrestler turned actor John Cena. He’d overcome his own weight challenges and wants to help others do the same.”
That’s it! Two brief sentences to give context to her reference.
Fortunately, Lisa is coachable and willing to change to improve her message. She now uses a similar short description to introduce John Cena. The audience has context, stays focused, and is ready to hear what she says next.
Do you want to keep your audience’s attention?
Avoid the Curse of Knowledge.
Review your speeches and stories and ask others for their input. What’s confusing? Which references are you unfamiliar with?
With this feedback, you’ll have a message that creates curiosity, stirs their imagination, and keeps their interest from start to finish.
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