by Leon Rosenshein

The Audience Is Listening

There are lots of ways to present information. When you’ve got some information you want to share it’s your responsibility share it well. There are lots of things to think about. Of course, you need to make sure the information you want to share is presented clearly, but that’s only the most basic, obvious, part.

Another thing to keep in mind is context. The context that you share with the people you’re talking to. Your audience. It’s your responsibility, as the person sharing the information, to ensure that you and your audience have a shared context. That the underlying foundation and framework that supports what you’re sharing is in fact also shared.

One of the big things in that kind of context is jargon. Oxford defines jargon as

special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

When you and your audience share those words and expressions you can take shortcuts. You can say one or two words and describe an entire situation. That kind of shorthand can be extremely useful to set the stage and make sure you and your audience are on the same page. As long as they understand the jargon.

On the other hand, if they don’t share the jargon, it makes things worse. Instead of inviting your audience in to join you, incomprehensible jargon pushes them away. It’s a barrier to entry. While the audience is trying to understand what you said, you’re finished the point and have moved on to something else. So not only did your audience not understand the jargon, they probably missed the next point as well.

Which gets us back to the title. They’re in the room. They’re probably paying attention. That, however, is not enough. You also need to be listening too. You need to know the audience before you start. If you expect the audience to have enough of the same context you can start with jargon and use it for clarity and brevity. On the other hand, if you think the audience doesn’t have the context, then you need to avoid jargon. At least at the start.

You also need to read the room, both while you’re speaking. Your initial understanding could easily be wrong. Is the audience leaning in and nodding? Are they looking confused? Are they asking questions to get you to define your terms, or are they responding with jargon and extrapolating from what you’ve said to what you’re getting ready to say? All of those things indicate that there’s a mismatch between you and the audience. And if there’s a mismatch between what you’re saying and what they’re hearing nothing is going to be shared.

It’s on you, as the person trying to share something, to be aware of the audience. To understand what they’re understanding and what they’re not. To adjust yourself to meet them where they are.

Because, of course, the audience is listening, so you should too.