No one will complain that you made something easy to understand.
This was a slide I read while watching a Keynote speaker address members of the American Distilling Institute—a conference I attended this week. He also mentioned that someone had stolen his antidepressant medicine that morning and that he hoped whoever did it was happy with their decision.
For weeks leading up to the summit I felt my enthusiasm grow. It started like most of my decisions to attend an event such as this; I justify it by pointing out to myself and others how much I was going to learn and extol how it is worth the expense, time, and energy to appear.
Then, as the sessions and speakers are more fully revealed in the days before arrival, I grow in fevered pitch with an eagerness that verges on eye-roll worthy, mainly because I’ve become convinced that this one meeting will be wholly instrumental and pivotal to my growth both professionally and personally.
Except the most transformative opportunity offered is typically when I come across a booth at the Expo where some cosplayer Lady of the Lake is handing out plastic swords as well as lapel stickers that say, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” I then cover my current lapel sticker from the previous booth that said, “Be like a postage stamp. Stick to something until you get there.”
Alas, the one thing that appears repeatedly throughout the three-day event is proof of how many of us fumble with the sagacious quote above. I become aware that some speakers were selected to lecture at the conference not for their ease of communicating complicated data, rather for accolades granted, accomplishments trumpeted, or they won an arm-wrestling tournament with the conference coordinator on some drunken night, and this was in the kitty.
Don’t misunderstand, there were countless inspiring speakers, but more often than not, the art of communication is something many of us struggle with every single day—whether it’s in the performance of our job description, or we’re chatting with an everyday Joe, newly met or longtime known. It’s a captivating experience to encounter someone or listen to them lecture and find they are silver-tongued and eloquent, but curiously, I’ve occasionally found that the more learned they are, the more unintelligible they may be.
As an example, I filed into a lecture hall, along with about 150 other attendees, all of us excited to hear the most up-to-date and innovative information on how yeast can become our newest BFF, if we truly understand its deepest desires. The professor of brewing science at a far-flung institution began with an apology: “I am about to squish eight hours of university lectures into 45 minutes. Most of it will be intelligible only to those of you with a masters in biochemistry. And onward!”
Only onward was not where most of us went with the professor. Most of us looked around the room to gauge how many of us had a masters in biochemistry and were enjoying the microscopic photos of the principal structures of aerobically grown distilling yeast cells, the table summary of the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas metabolic pathway, and charts highlighting the biosynthesis of amino acids. I quickly realized that yeast and I were likely never going to exchange interlocking jewelry with one another.
My intention was not to sit in on a university lecture far beyond my wheelhouse and fume with frustration over wasted time, rather I had presumed—based on the title—that I might listen, take notes, and then bring home some data to our head distiller that said, if we switch to this yeast, we’ll have bigger yields, or if we utilize this enzyme, we’ll have bigger yields, or the word “yeast” is Sanskrit for, “to seethe or boil,” therefore they may benefit from a few anger management sessions if we’re hoping to see bigger yields.
I think you get my point.
Our takeaway from any exchange is one we hope to capitalize on if we’re in a business setting, or delight in, if we’re feeling out a new friend.
I am particularly good at wholly forgetting who I am when introducing myself to fellow attendees or approaching speakers I want to congratulate after a worthy session. I think my best words are often, “umm … I, uhh …” and something inaudible as I glance down to check my own name tag for identification. Rarely do I recall the pithy pitch I’d practiced in the bathroom mirror just before leaving the hotel that day. I’d be better off handing the person a QR code to scan at their convenience that will bring them to an interactive website with a pull-down menu to pick and choose from.
It also does not help that a “distiller’s” convention starts off every day with a boozy breakfast and a bucketful of hazmat level tastings to fully appreciate some of the latest trends, so I am going to attribute my inarticulate blundering as only the result of that full strength participation enthusiasm I bring to every conference and not general incompetence, okay?
The big picture is that maybe some of us need a little extra help “reading the room” these days. Maybe our messaging skills are rusty, our presentations inefficacious, maybe our wording falls short when trying to explain to people how effective we can be by using words like inefficacious to describe things.
Maybe it would be helpful if a room moderator would communicate to the conference attendees as soon as they discover a speaker is a no-show, rather than assume everyone will figure it out after thirty minutes of speculatively waiting. Some of us take longer to “read the room” than others.
Ultimately, most peoples’ desires are to be heard, to be comprehended, to be deemed adept at relaying vital and useful information to those who choose to listen to them. But for those who really don’t care, may I suggest an introductory slide of benefit?
I am only responsible for what I say—not for what you understand.
If I see this up front, I’ll happily head back to the boozy breakfast for a second round and spend the hour practicing my own high-proof pitch.
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