My brilliant public speaking coach, Lura, recently told me:
"It's not what you say, it's how you make people feel."
She didn't mean that my presentations should be without good content...quite the opposite. If I had good content that delivered awesome information and made people feel like they've learnt something and delivered this content in a way that was simple, but not dumbed down, so people could take it back to wherever they needed to (work, colleagues, clients, etc.) and use it to make them look smart, then I've done my job.
Finally catching up on my favourite blogs, I read something that Kathy wrote recently:
Nobody cares about your company, and nobody cares about your product. Not really. They care about themselves in relation to your product. What it means to them. What it does for them. What it says about them that they use your product or believe in your company. You're still just the delivery guy, and your package helps the user kick ass at something. However, when you DO have a product that truly helps the user, they might just love you for it. : )
Kathy calls it a loveocracy. (love that)
There is a theme here. You can't just simply give information, you have to be an awesome Information Broker. And good information brokers aren't necessarily the smartest or the people with all of the information, either (although if you are both, you rock).
Hear me out.
I always admire my PiC, Chris, because, although he isn't a developer, he is able to understand many programming languages and seriously geeky concepts. I've sat through many information sessions where a developer will talk about the intricacies of something they've worked on and looked around the room to see 90% of the audience lost and confused. Chris will take what he understands and rephrase it in statements and questions that start to make sense to me, and, when I look around, the rest of the room. In the end, many people flock over to him to ask more questions rather than the really knowledgeable developer.
People aren't dumb, but they don't want to feel dumb, either. Quite often the smartest people in the room take all of the knowledge they have for granted and forget the steps in between that they took to get there. Information brokers fill in those steps for the audience.
Some of the best speakers I've seen are the ones who give me the kind of information I can digest after 1 hour. After that, I get to go away with those references and delve deeper into the subject if it suits me. There is nothing more frustrating than going to see a really, really smart person and walking away from it feeling like I don't know anything. Sure, I think that person is smart, but I certainly don't feel compelled to go buy their book or see them talk again.
Opinion and behavior are more homogeneous within than between groups, so people connected across groups are more familiar with alternative ways of thinking and behaving. Brokerage across the structural holes between groups provides a vision of options otherwise unseen, which is the mechanism by which brokerage becomes social capital...The organization is rife with structural holes, and brokerage has its expected correlates. Compensation, positive performance evaluations, promotions, and good ideas are disproportionately in the hands of people whose networks span structural holes. The between-group brokers are more likely to express ideas, less likely to have ideas dismissed, and more likely to have ideas evaluated as valuable. [emphasis mine]
Information brokers, those people who bridge the structural holes, are sought-after because they bring information between disciplines.
When people feel empowered, the ideas start flowing. When ideas start flowing, we get in a state of flow. Flow feels awesome.
I took Lura's advice and after my presentation at FOWA, had many amazing conversations with people, excited to delve deeper into the subject. We even received one email from a workshop participant who told us that it was akin to finding the 'Alt' key. I've never felt better.
The key is, as Kathy suggests, that you make the information not only useful, but really interesting and fun. When learning is fun instead of work, people will remember the information, be able to use it to sound smart themselves. That will lead them to feeling great, which they will then associate with you and your work.
Whether you are offering a workshop or a website, it's not about you being smart or cool, it's about the audience being smart or cool.