3 Tricks to Overcoming “The Expert’s Paradox” as a Presenter

September 16, 2015

expertparadox-blogBy Trevor Currie

You’re a smart, experienced professional with a depth of expertise and a range of experience that is exhaustive and the envy of those around you. So when you’re asked to speak at a conference or to share your knowledge with a group of colleagues or clients, you can’t wait to dazzle them with your insight.

Enter the Expert’s Paradox.

The reason you are asked to speak—your expertise—often becomes the biggest impediment to connecting with your audience. You know too much. And you try to cover too much ground for the amount of time you have with too much technical detail given the level of sophistication of your audience.

The knowledge gap between an expert speaker and her audience creates a significant communications challenge that many professionals struggle to overcome. It’s not easy to navigate but those who do it well will find themselves in hot demand.

So, how can you share your expertise in a way that is relevant, accessible and interesting? Here are 3 tricks that will help you bridge the gap between you and your audience:

Put Your Audience’s Needs First

As an expert, it’s tempting to share everything you know. But more is not better. Your audience wants you to talk about the things they care about.

I encourage my clients to think about two key questions when they’re planning their content:

-What are the top 3 – 5 pressing questions, pain points or desires your audience has?

-What are the sweat-inducing, stay-awake-at-night issues in their role/business?

If you’re not crystal clear on these key issues, you’ve got work to do. Talk to people who will be in the audience (or people like them from your own network), do some research online and reflect on your own experience as you take a walk in their shoes. It’s only when you know what your audience cares about that you will be able to focus your talk and go narrow and deep, the hallmark qualities of a relevant and engaging presentation.

Use Examples to Capture the Audience’s Imagination

One of the most powerful ways to bridge the gap between you and your audience is to use examples. In our analysis of the Top 100 TED Talks, we found that these speakers share, on average, an example a minute. Yes, that’s right—one example every minute! Examples make the abstract concepts more concrete and help your audience connect with your content in meaningful ways. There are a number of different types of examples you can use:

Real, representative stories. In 2010, Jennifer Pahlka started a program called Code for America and convinced rockstar tech and design types to take a year off and work in government to think about how technology could improve the lives of citizens. A noble, lofty and rather abstract mission.

During her excellent TED talk, Jennifer provided a real example that helped the audience connect with her vision and demonstrated how programmers and designers coders actually can (and did) help. She shared the Adopt a Hydrant app that was developed for in the city of Boston and showed how this very simple and playful app is being used by the city to engage home and shop owners to dig out fire hydrants after it snowed. It’s a great project that connects citizens to their city, neighbors to one another and ensures fire hydrants are accessible.

Client case studies. Case study examples invite your audience into a story of transformation where people just like them went from a place of fear and frustration to a better place. And the best part? You were the bridge between the land of pain and suffering and the ultimate triumph. Even though you were a supporting actor in the case study story—because your client is the lead character—you were the agent of transformation. Casting yourself in a supporting role helps you avoid sounding too self-congratulatory or grand-standy. There’s a reason why case studies are ubiquitous in everything from infomercials to investment advice. They work! And they work because they are concrete, create tension (“uh oh, that’s a tough situation to be in”) and deliver a motivating pay-off (“I want that too!”).

Light-hearted hypothetical scenarios. If you don’t have any relevant client case studies to share, you can invite your audience to imagine a hypothetical scenario and draw a comparison between said situation and one of your core concepts. As you consider creating hypothetical scenarios, rise above talking about “widgets.” Give your characters and companies names and real-sounding products and problems. Would you rather hear about Dev’s cell phone shop in Dharamsala or person A making widgets in random company X?

Be Clear and Drop the Jargon

One of the hallmarks of a clueless expert is the use of a lot of jargon and acronyms. You don’t sound impressive when you’re using buzzwords. And your inability to share your knowledge and experience using words your audience can understand can actually undermine your credibility. How smart can you be if you can’t make your expertise accessible and relevant? The solution is not to “dumb down” your content or your language. That’s insulting to your audience. Instead think about the language and expressions you would use if you were presenting to a smart 12th grader.

It’s a paradoxical thing, being invited to share our expert knowledge with people who don’t share our level of expertise. The very expertise that landed you the gig is the very same expertise that can make it hard to connect with an audience.

You must mind the gap.

READ MORE: Enough With the Business Jargon! Here's How to Make Your Presentation Understandable

About the Author

Trevor Currie HeadshotTrevor is the Founder of Podium Consulting, a Toronto-based presentation skills company that helps business leaders and creative pros become stronger, more influential communicators. Trevor is the host of The Podium Project podcast and regularly shares speaking tips and insights with The Podium Club and on Twitter @trevcurrie.

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