Storytelling Course Lesson 3: Avoiding The Curse of Knowledge

As a leader and expert, it’s safe to say you know a great deal about your subject matter domain – the features of your product, the industry jargons, the foundational know-how of how things work together.

Depending on where you’re speaking (which conference) and who you’re speaking to, you’ll need to vary the way you communicate your ideas and arguments.

I’ll give you a cliche’ example. Imagine attending a startup conference as a non-technical person and the speaker goes up to the stage and starts talking about terms alien to you like – CSS, Ruby, Python, Turn-Key Platforms, Agile Software… the list goes on.

Especially if the subject of the conference is a general one, only a handful would be able to grasp the developer-speak. You can trust that everyone else would have their eyes glued to their mobile devices. Is it the presenter’s fault in this case?

All he or she is doing is speaking on a familiar topic the way the person would normally do at the office to their colleagues. It tends to feel natural, effortless, but if the audiences don’t understand a thing, it’s ineffective. This is caused by what is known as the ‘curse of knowledge’

The ‘curse of knowledge’ defined in Wikipedia as: “a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.”

Solving this would stem back to determining your audience’s current level understanding of your subject matter. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to angle your presentation in a way that would make it easy for the layperson to grasp your ideas.

A very good example is this presentation at Renesas’ DevCon 2015 : *link* where the presenter was able to communicate technical concepts in a way that audiences not wise to industry jargons could understand and appreciate.

Of course, you and I both know that this does not happen by accident. In fact, months of preparation went into the presentation to ensure it’s succinctness by eliminating esoteric content.

If there is one thing you can do for your next presentation, it’s to determine what your audiences already know or don’t know so you can fill the gaps without being too abstract.