Avoid the common extremes

Monkey in stereo

Aristotle called it The Golden Mean. Both athletes and audiophiles talk about the Sweet Spot. I don’t have a catchy term (not yet), but the concept applies to choosing and developing a topic.

Beginning speakers tend to go to one extreme or the other. They either render a report, or they deliver a personal letter.

Reports happen when you go look up what other people have said and bring it to the audience. There is some minimal usefulness in this, in that it saves the audience the trouble of looking it up for themselves. But it doesn’t bring a lot of value to the experience. Thanks to the internet, I can look it up the same as you can, and probably faster. You have to be really, really good at looking stuff up to get me to drive somewhere and take my time to listen to you report it.

On the other hand, your opinions may be fascinating to you, but just like I have little interest in seeing your Facebook posts about what you had for lunch, I have little interest in driving somewhere and taking my time to listen to you spout personal experiences and opinions about much of anything.

However, if you do your homework, research information, find germane sources, and then bring them together in a unique way filtered through your ideas and experiences, you have something I can’t get anywhere else. I may or may not agree with you–that’s not the point. You bring something of value when you “look stuff up” and cook it through your experiences and viewpoint.

When you get right down to it, most food consists of the same basic ingredients. Your value as a cook (or, at a higher level, a chef) lies not in your going to the grocery and bringing food to me. It is in how you combine the ingredients and apply your skill and judgment to the process.

Your teachers rightly forbade you from writing personal essays (for the most part) because the first task for a young human in learning to think clearly is to get outside yourself. Today, I see the practical results of failure to achieve that for many people growing up. When you succeed in getting outside yourself, though, you need to take what you find there and bring it back in order to have an impact on other people. Even in the most business-like of business presentations, the value of listening to you (or even reading your reports) rather than reading bulleted summaries of what you found lies in what you bring to the homework you’ve done.

I don’t know what to call it yet. But I know there is a sweet spot in there. Have you found it yet?

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.