Whenever you’re learning something new, you can no doubt find many people who having already learned the basics, are able to share with you what they know. As you learn what they know, you sometimes seek others with even more information, until you get to the point where you know all you want. At this point, you may just know enough that you can discover what remains to be known by yourself.
When you’re on the other side, possessing knowledge of a subject and sharing that knowledge with those who seek it, just knowing what they don’t know isn’t good enough. No, it takes someone with both the knowledge and the knack for communicating that knowledge. I’ve known way too many people through the course of my life who, while very intelligent and educated on subjects, fail miserably when it comes to communicating that information in such a way that their audience learns what’s being taught.
Lest you think this is confined to a classroom in the conventional student/teacher relationship, while it’s true that failing to communicate occurs here, it is by no means confined to the classroom. Think about when you were learning to drive and how your father got so exasperated trying to teach you. As you struggled to change gears, or took far too long for their liking as you attempted to parallel park the car, their patience lowered as their voice raised. When you continued to grind gears and jerked the car forward a few feet at a time, their tolerance eroded and your ability to learn was hampered by your increasing stress. In short, they weren’t the best teacher, and you in their mind, just weren’t getting it. You were failing to learn in their mind, and in yours, you realized you needed a better communicator.
As a Workshop Facilitator, I find myself each and every day having to modify how I communicate to my audience. Sometimes, being direct and straightforward is the way someone learns. At other times, being so direct might shatter what’s left of a fragile self-esteem, and extreme patience and words of encouragement go a lot further.
If you facilitate workshops, lead seminars or teach any subject matter, I wonder how you go about communicating what you know to your audience. I’ve been to some events where the presenter failed to make a connection with their audience and just droned on reading their slides as they came up on the screen. They may have just as well emailed us the presentation and stayed home. But this is an example of where their teaching style and my learning style didn’t jive. No, I like more dialogue, more interaction, question and answers, activities, humour, a lively and animated speaker.
When I first started as a Facilitator, I likely thought I was pretty good. I mean, it’s only natural to think we’re doing okay when we get started, even though we know we have much to learn. I probably wasn’t as good as I thought I was though. That too only makes sense. The more you work at communicating a topic to others, the better you get at communicating period.
In short, you get – I got – better at reading your audience. Looking out at those faces, you can pick up the quizzical look that really says, “I don’t understand”. You can see the glazed over eyes that say, “I’m tuned out” or the tilted head that says, “I hadn’t thought of that before and I’m taking a moment to process what I just learned.” If you read your audience well, you adjust your communication to get more of what you’re after, smiling faces that say, “I understand, my knowledge is increasing and I feel good.” When you fail to read your audience or don’t even try, you’ll have people take extended washroom breaks, leave and not return, or sometimes actually cut you off and say, “What are you talking about?” Of course, you won’t see any of these if you aren’t engaged yourself as presenter.
The people in an audience are most probable to have different learning styles. Each brings their past knowledge in your subject, from absolute novice to those with some familiarity and of course those who may actually know as much or more than you. Good presenters touch everyone and their message resonates with each person in the audience so all leave feeling they got something out of the time they invested.
I know when I’m at the front of a room, I’m scanning faces all the time, watching the body language, checking levels of engagement and I try to get to people quickly who may be struggling to keep up, grasp a concept or have a question. It may be someone needs an analogy to something they already know and comprehend completely that makes learning something new relatable. For some, they might need a comical moment of entertainment, some visual or audio enhancement of what’s being shared. When I see those, “Oh, now I understand!” faces, I know that the message I’ve been communicating has been received as I intended.
This is the objective and responsibility of any presenter; communicate your message so that your audience receives it as you intended. If you succeed then great. If you fail to communicate your message, it’s not your audience; look in the mirror. And yes, I’ve looked in the mirror. A lot. That’s how to improve.