What Makes You An Expert Is NOT What Makes You Interesting

Remember Story Time?

Librarian reading to children

What is it about listening to someone reading aloud?As a kid, it was magical. The reader’s voice would wash over me, and not only did I imagine a whole world come alive from between the covers, but I also bonded with the reader. With each book we shared, we co-witnessed and even vicariously lived another event together.

Now that I’m an adult (or so they tell me), I still love a good audiobook. While the bonding with the reader aspect is not as strong as with a live person (which perhaps is a relief, considering the circumstances), a good reader can still wrap me up in the story all the same.

Nowadays though, there are times I find myself unexpectedly being read to and the magic just isn’t there. Say, for instance, at a convention.

Picture it. Large ballroom. Lots of people. Expert with impressive credentials at the podium. Almost stuck to the podium come to think of it. And looking at the screen behind them more than at the hundreds of would-be devotees sitting in wait.

Suddenly, the once precious experience of hearing words read aloud becomes a lot less wondrous when the reader is running down a ”wall of words” from their exhaustively comprehensive slide deck.

Why, Why, Why?

“Why are you here?” is what I really want to ask. If all you are going to give us is the back of your head and a recitation of your slides that the rest of us can also read, by the way, then why are YOU here?

But that seems harsh. Especially because I really do want to see and hear these experts live and because I have a feeling their intention is totally pure. They want to give us as much of their expertise as they can….so they leave themselves out of the process to make room.

The speaker’s unconscious credo to self: “Don’t (let myself) get in the way of my content.”

A fatal flip of priorities has reared its head again and I have to ponder why so many savvy and accomplished people fall into this trap; subjugating their personality to their PowerPoint slides.

Maybe the question is “When?” When did we start thinking that simply knowing information is enough to effectively share that same information with others? When did we start to think that the speaker is an obstacle that must not get in the way of the speaker’s message?

If information alone were all anybody ever needed to internalize, integrate and apply knowledge, it wouldn’t matter in what form we received it. Dry, dense, monotonous, and lacking in relate-able context; it wouldn’t matter. We’d lap it up and make good use of it all the same.

But somehow this doesn’t seem to be the case. Somehow, it seems quite easy for information without skillful delivery to be, well, boring.

I’m no Star Trek fan (that is another story for another day as the reasons for which have nothing to do with Star Trek itself), but even I would venture to say there is a reason why Captain Kirk was the hero and Mr. Spock was second banana. Spock might have been smarter and more level headed, but he just doesn’t have the charisma to drive (a.k.a. lead) the show, let alone the Starship Enterprise. Kirk has a point of view, opinions, experiences…. a relatable personality. Any expert would be remiss to go the Spock route. Every person has a personality---however buried it can get under all that knowledge.

The Human Element

Market researchers will attest that on the whole, human beings will prefer to engage with another live human being over a pre-recorded, automated voice system. At best, we tolerate these poor facsimiles of human interaction. As consumers, we hear that faux genuine, not-so-silky simulated voice on the other end of the phone and we shut right down. I can’t count the number of times I’ve interrupted the inane prompts of an automated customer service call system to impatiently insist “Agent!” No one wants to deal with a person who isn’t really there. It doesn’t matter how much information they have. If we can’t relate, we disengage.

(By the way, the same human element is also eminent in other modes of information delivery. Otherwise, why would authors and editors take the trouble to make the written word articulate and engaging if content would be just as compelling worded like the phone book?)

At least when we were kids, the readers seemed to be….more into what they were reading. They tried to transcend the fact that they were reading and realized that to engage us, we must feel part of the story. We must feel a personal connection to all the story’s players and understand the context for all the events to matter. The only way for the story to come alive was to bring it to life.

So, if we return to our convention scenario, it stands to reason that if an actual, live person is delivering information to us, the more of a real person (rather than a talking head) he or she is, the more apt we are to pay attention. Just like when we were kids, we want to get wrapped up in the story. And our ambassador to the story blandly reading slides in front of us just won’t cut it.

For all the speakers who feel their content is more interesting and more relevant to their audience than they themselves are, I say:

What makes you an expert is NOT what makes you interesting.

You are more than what you know.

The best way for us to learn fromyou is for us to relate toyou, and receive the content throughyou.

That is truly magic.