Expertise can disconnect you quickly; Choose Vulnerability

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The expert vs. the experienced learner…

Let's say you're about to teach something to an audience. You step on the stage. And in that moment, you have to determine your tone. Will the tone be of an expert who's there to articulate and share information that ought to be trusted because of your experience and expertise? Or will you be an experienced learner, just a few feet in front of your audience, on the same journey?

The science says that if you are an expert, you will turn brains off. And if you are on the same journey, just a few feet ahead, you may turn brains on?

How does that work?

Well, let me ask you a question. Let me ask you to go back to when you were in a classroom, when you were a child and the teacher asked a question, “Raise your hand if you know what the fastest way to get from New York to Los Angeles, raise you hand.”

And a whole bunch of hands go up, and maybe you raised your hand. Then the teacher calls on a student and the student says, “Train” or “Plane,” whatever you want. “Plane.” And the teacher says, “Right.”

What happens in that moment?

Maybe you remember being in that classroom at that time, maybe you remember sitting in that seat, having stretched out your arms really high because you had an answer, you had an answer and you were going to say car because you took a car trip and you remember that trip and you remember how fast you went.

And the moment someone over there is told they're right, you presume that you're wrong. Your arm comes down and you stop thinking about the question entirely.

Now, there are some problems that have a very specific answer, right? What is two plus two? It's four. I mean, if we're talking about arithmetic the way we understand it, two plus two in base ten is four. But imagine if someone says, “What's ten plus four?” Well, ten plus four in the normal way we think about things is 14.

But ten plus four in base 12, like our clocks, if you say four hours after ten, what do you get? You get two. Ten plus four equals two. Now that's a second answer.

It's a legitimate answer in a different context.

But this is what happens when you're an expert or this is what happens when someone declares your answer is right.

It shuts everybody else down.

It closes off brains. It closes off thinking, because we think, “Well, if that's the right answer, my answer must be wrong.”

The crazy thing is that, for the majority of the things we think about and talk about, there are multiple right answers.

The fastest way to get the crowd to disconnect

When you get on stage and you articulate the, “This is the answer, this is what I've done and it worked and I'm telling you this,” most of the people in the audience won't actually learn from you.

Instead, and especially if you really did some amazing things, they will come away with something different. They will actually determine that they are not you. And that's a pretty big difference.

When you get on stage and you say, “I've been doing this for 20 years,” it's likely that the audience there will say, “Well, I haven't so I'm not you.”

You'll say, “Well, I've done this so many times in a row,” and they'll say, “Well, I haven't so I'm not you.”

Or “I'm going to show you exactly how you can accomplish A, B and C because I've done it” and they think, “But I'm not you. You've just proven I'm not you.”

And what happens? We close our minds. We stop listening because we've checked out, because we're already clear we're not you.

If you want to engage an audience, if you want your message to stick, then to move from the posture or the tone of an expert to an experienced learner suggests you're a learner, you're trying to figure things out, I'm a learner, I just happened to be a little bit more experienced. I just happen to be five feet in front of you, on the same journey.

And as I share my story in that context, as I share insights in that context, I just happen to be a little further ahead, which causes you to start wondering and asking, “Well, what happens if I get to here?” Or, “Will I experience that?” Or, “How did you get past that so that I can get past it?”

Notice what's happened. My brain is firing with questions. I haven't shut down. And that has everything to do with your posture when you get on stage.

This isn't about specific words

I'm not talking about the specific words. I'm not talking about your introduction. I'm not talking about how you present in terms of your material or even the content of your presentation.

I'm talking about your tone.

I'm talking about whether or not people experienced you as someone's who's on the same journey as them, someone who's like them, or whether they experience you as a unique expert with so much experience that it's a disconnect from who they are.

If there's a disconnect, they won't learn from you.

This is predominantly why some of the most well known public speakers, some of the most well known and effective presenters come across as the everyday person. The person next door. Because they realized that if they put themselves on a different pedestal if they put themselves as different, they won't connect.

I mean, think about a stand-up comedian who's famous, or think about a musician who's famous. You don't think when you're in the audience, “I'm like them and I could learn from them and I could be them.” You just think, “They're them and I'm me and we're really different.”

Be every person in the audience

The question you've got to ask yourself when you go up to present is, how do you want your audience to interact?

Do you want them to see the gulf of difference between the two of you or do you want them to feel like, “Yeah, we're pretty similar and I can learn from this and I want to get from this and I even have questions about this now.”

If it's the latter, which I suspect it is, then it's going to change the way you have your tone, it's going to change the way you communicate, it's going to change how you present yourself. It'll be subtle, it'll be in little different words and phrases, but it is a change in your demeanor; it's a change in your approach and it's a change in the way you communicate to others.

Because ultimately, you need to become every person, you need to become someone just like them, rather than pontificating from the expert posture.

Here's a consultant who is talking about farts. Seriously. But the story is fantastic and his point on being vulnerable is on point!

Show people more of the map

My recommendation, from a tonal perspective, is that you go up as an experienced learner, sharing as a guide, if you will, as a guide sharing a little more of the map.

You can imagine that every audience member has a map. They've sketched out a part of their map. Unfortunately, they have a big map and only one part of it has been defined. On the part they've experienced has been defined.

All you want to do, if you do your job well, all you want to do is show them or expose them to more parts of the map, by explaining, “Look, you're going to get here and when you see this, you're going to notice all these things and I'm going to walk you through and help you navigate, because I'm just a little further ahead but I want you to see that part, I want you to discover that part of your map so that you can move forward and progress to the next steps.” If you do that, there's a strong likelihood that your message will stick.

Most of us learned what we know by way of mistakes

Choose vulnerability.

Maybe that's the simplest way to say what I want to say. Instead of acting like you were born knowing all that you do, approach the stage with the sense that you're there to share insights that were hard-won. Won by making mistakes. Mistakes that now others don't need to make.

Choose vulnerability.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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