Is this the way to get your point across? Let’s consider how some people communicate in public.
Recently I have watched a number of American ‘How To’ videos on YouTube and noticed a common trend that occurs also in American sales letters and motivational speeches. It’s a reluctance to get to the point.
One video was about improving your singing voice. That was the promise in the title. It opened with a question received from a fan who wanted to know the difference between the singing voice and the speaking voice.
The presenter talked about opera singers in the past, about vocal projection over the sound of an orchestra, about the modern use of the microphone, about the difference between theatre performances and solo singing, and the expectations of an audience.
She then compared the performances by different singers of the same song and asked a series of rhetorical questions about each person’s vocal range, adding explanations of her own preferred key.
This took four minutes, and she had not yet started any instruction!
Tell me HOW!
Another ‘How To’ video was about learning to play a certain musical instrument. Half the short video was on setting the scene and describing the instruction that would be presented in a DVD set. The second half of the video was a demonstration of basic technique, followed by 2,000 words plus pictures, promoting the DVD set.
In general, there seems to be a tendency, in the Unites States, to tell you what you should be doing and why it would be a good idea. Along the way the speaker will bask in stories that illustrate what works and what does not. But the actual instruction is a long time coming. They tell you What and Why, but not How.
I’d call it the Prolix Tendency. It’s a form of self-indulgence by the presenter. And it is present in other areas too.
On the inside track?
Investigating what gives some F1 cars an advantage over others I came across something called an S-duct (don’t ask). However, its explanation delivered a masterpiece of technical language that seems laden with meaning but which, as far as I am concerned, might as well be in Swahili. See what you can make of it. This is what it said:
“Once the duct twists tighter than the critical radius, flow restriction starts to go up nonlinearly compared to looser-than-critical-radius duct geometrics.”
You at the back of the class, yes you, the clever clogs with the round specs, tell me what that means.
Scramble for dominance
These examples of miscommunication have something in common, and I’ll come to that in a moment. First, let me tell you about yet another example of faulty communication – this time in broadcasting. It is a feature of panel discussions on radio and TV in Ireland that speakers will cut across other speakers, speaking over them and forcing their own contributions upon the listener.
As you know, in broadcasting (as distinct from in-person) it is almost impossible to cope with more than one speaker at a time. The moderators don’t check them strongly enough. It is a problem more prevalent in Ireland than in Britain, and it’s not only a matter of discipline (the Beeb does it better). It’s about the one thing all these examples have in common.
It’s the belief that communication is about transmission.
How to communicate better
In every example above (and some in your own experience, I am sure) the speaker’s focus is on themselves and what they want to say. The videos about lessons in singing and playing a musical instrument were examples of showing off, without a thought for viewers who were screaming, “Get to the point!” The description of the S-duct is typical of technical bods who are interested only in those who can acknowledge their expertise. And the broadcasting panellists with sharp elbows push aside anyone else and say, in effect, “Listen to me instead.”
Communication is not about transmission. It’s about the way it is received and understood. As Mr Punch has always said, “That’s the way to do it!”