Enough keynotes, already

100_1There’s a well-known experiment, which led to the idea of “The Curse of Knowledge”. People were paired up. The first person had to think of a tune and tap it out with their fingers. The second had to guess. The guessers were pretty bad, whilst the tappers grew more frustrated. The tune was obvious to the tappers, and they couldn’t understand how the guessers were not getting it.

I think this “curse” goes way beyond knowledge. Leaders, trainers etc easily slide into articulating their views and think those who don’t “get it” are idiots. They then either give up, or think the solution is to repeat themselves, with increasing vehemence. It’s rather like the archetypal Englishman who think he can overcome the language barrier with foreigners by just speaking English really loudly and patronisingly.

Part of the problem is that the speaker is prioritising their ideas, their content, and forgetting about relationship. They are out of sync with their audience, something that happens very easily, especially when the audience is large and diverse.

There’s a big industry in training people to give better speeches, but I increasingly suspect this is not solving the right problem. A lot of the time, it would be better for people to stop giving speeches, and instead get better at conversations. Get away from keynotes that lay down the law, and engage in the messier business of conversing with people. It’s harder work and it doesn’t “scale”, at least not in some effortless way.

(Thanks to Ryan McGuire for the picture)

4 thoughts on “Enough keynotes, already

  1. Julian Summerhayes

    Morning Johnnie.

    Thanks for sharing.

    My take can be articulated simply; namely what people crave is AUTHENTICITY (apologies for the ‘capitals’).

    In the world I operate where, yes, I do get paid to speak — what an honour and gift — I see too many who talk about what they think their audience want to hear without ever asking the deep, meaningful questions that are essential to move the needle.

    Despite the fact that I’m often asked to provide slides in advance, wherever possible I try now to talk ex tempore, which may sound like I don’t care but actually all I need is a theme or a few words and I find it a real joy to then weave something around that combined with what the audience have to say/contribute. I don’t know if this is right or appropriate but it feels more natural.

    As to whether ‘they’ get it…who really knows; but as I’m not selling some lame product, for me the only thing that’s at stake is connection whether that’s one on one or with a bigger group.


  2. David Zinger

    Have you tested the tapping experiment. I heard this and thought how “neat.” But when I experimented about 40 to 60% of the participants got the song. Could this be one of those things we know but don’t. I also understand frogs do jump out of water when the heat is raised slowly. I would be interested in hearing from other facilitators who tested this out.

  3. Simon Banks

    You wrote a marvelous post. Thanks for it. I believe the conversation is the most important part with a group. If a mentor converse with his audience even if with out the any keynotes will be more effective.


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