Make these common assumptions and you are doomed to failure
Dr. Chris Cross, who works at Harborview Hospital, hurried into Room 214 where Donna Chang was lying in bed. Nurse Pat Goldstein was fluffing bed pillows. Dr. Cross asked, “Why isn’t this room ready?” Pat’s face reddened and the Nurse in Charge said it would be ready in a few minutes.
From this story, answer the following questions: Is Dr. Cross a man in a hurry? Did Dr. Cross enter a room in Harborview Hospital? Is Donna Chang a patient at Harborview? Is Donna Chang Chinese? Is Dr. Cross a medical doctor? When Dr. Cross asked Nurse Goldstein why the room wasn’t ready, she got mad? Is Nurse Goldstein, who is Jewish, the Nurse in Charge?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you made an inference or an assumption. We can’t answer “yes” for a fact to any of these questions without more information.
When analyzing an audience to prepare for a presentation, the biggest mistake we can make is confusing fact with inferences or assumptions. I made this mistake once when I gave a talk that was received well and earned lots of laughter. It was such a success; I gave the same talk to a different group. Big mistake! It was a dud with no laughter. I prepared and delivered the same way; however, the audience, situation, and occasion were all different.
Remember, public speaking is a balance between an art and science and that balance changes for every audience, situation, and occasion. You can’t assume all audiences are the same. Make the following assumptions and you might be doomed to failure.
Assume you have all the knowledge and answers on your topic. A healthy dose of self-confidence is a good thing and you should know a lot about your topic. However, no matter your expertise, the collection of knowledge in the minds of an audience usually outweighs your knowledge.
Assume you know what the audience wants to hear. You can’t possibly know this unless you talk to the point person arranging your talk and ask if you can talk to a few people who will attend your talk. Ask them what they expect, their views on your topic, what issues concern their group, etc.
Assume the audience will be impressed with you. Quite frankly, most audiences do not care about the speaker. They only care that the speaker cares about them. Be “audience centered” and cater your talk to their wants, needs, and desires—not yours. The only way you can do this is to ask them.
Assume you need to gain the audience’s approval. Again, they are not concerned with you. Seeking to gain the audience’s approval is too much pressure on you, and a waste of their time. Gaining approval of everyone in an audience is almost impossible, even Jesus Christ could not gain everyone’s approval. Social science research tells us that on average, no matter your proposition, 10% will agree with you, 10% will disagree with you, and the other 80% will be somewhere on the continuum in between these two extremes.
Prepare for each individual audience and don’t make assumptions or inferences about them—ask questions. Doing this will increase your odds of giving a successful talk.
Now for the question to the opening story: Dr. Chris Cross could be a man in a hurry unless her name is Christine. Dr. Cross might have entered room 214 at Harborview Hospital, but the story says he/she works at Harborview, not that s/he was at Harborview, s/he could have hurried into another hospital. Donna Chang may have been a patient, or could have been a relative of a patient, a tired worker, or any other possibility. The story isn’t clear.
Donna Chang may be Chinese, or may be married to a Chinese man, or may be adopted, we don’t know. Dr. Cross may be a medical doctor, but s/he could be a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or any other type of PhD, or DC, or PsyD, etc. Nurse Goldstein may have got mad, but we only know his face got red. Yes, his face, maybe Nurse Pat Goldstein is Patrick and not Patricia. We don’t know if Nurse Goldstein is Jewish nor if he is the Nurse in Charge. Another Nurse could have been in the room—the Nurse in Charge.
Copyright April 2013 Mattson Communication Training