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A novice audience: avoid the expertise trap!

These past few weeks, we have focused our attention on the audience:

  • First, the hostile audience and its resistance by the thousands
  • Then, the more or less engaged audience.

Today, we are going to talk about the novice audience; one that knows nothing about you and is waiting impatiently (or not) to discover all the invaluable information you have to share.

Good news, you’d say! Not so fast… because if you simplify too much, it is useless to call on an expert. On the other hand, if they do not understand anything, it’s not very useful either. Because you, an expert in your field, have already spoken about all this in countless presentations. Your vocabulary was already technical at its base, but over time, you developed a specific jargon, you stretched concepts and, little by little, it became complicated to make it simple. So how simple can you make it without being simplistic? How can you present your subject to a novice audience without falling into the expertise trap?

“Nothing is more difficult than simplicity,” said André Derain, especially as our trades become more and more complex. Your objective, as an expert, is not only for the people in your audience to understand, but moreover that they are able to use what you are going to tell them, to modify their practice, review their course… In short, take advantage of an expertise they don’t have in order to better themselves!


Become the guide of your project – When speaking to a novice audience, you must be able to adapt your posture. The demeanor of a guide provides a good conversational balance. It allows you to take a step back from your subject by putting you in a tour guide mode. Hence, you invite your audience to discover your project step by step, waiting for it at each step, to answer questions and make sure you don’t leave anyone behind.

Take care of your audience – A novice audience is an audience that needs to be won over. Since it doesn’t know anything (about your subject), it can as easily hold on tight to what you’re saying as it can get bored after a few minutes… To maintain the attention span for the long run, you have to take care of your audience. Look at them, make sure everyone is with you; the more attention you give your audience the more attention it will give you back.


 Choose the right semantic field – In a previous tip, we saw that there were 4 semantic fields, namely the lived, the analogy, the rule and the concept. The rule and the concept are the least accessible because they require a high level of abstraction. In front of a novice audience, it is much more suitable to develop the speech in the field of the lived experience, which allows you to multiply the anecdotes and analogies, which are useful in facilitating comprehension and providing a mental representation of a complex idea.

Be as concrete as possible – He who says argumentation, says… figures!  Except that most of the time they don’t mean much for your audience. Especially if it doesn’t know anything about your subject. To bring concrete insights to your audience, you need to give value and meaning to your numbers, explain where they come from or what they caused! The more novice the audience, the more you should privilege qualitative arguments over quantitative ones.


 Simplify your presentation – Standing before any audience, and especially a novice one, it is important not to overload your slides. Forget the graphics of all sorts, the GIFs and other bullet point lists; clear them out.  The more your slides are loaded, the more the audience’s attention will be diverted from your remarks and the less it will understand! For each slide, ask yourself: what is the idea? If the answer is not clear, refine your message and /or multiply the slides to propose a step by step process that will capture attention more effectively.

In conclusion, the more you master your subject, the more you must be able to be simple and brief. What differentiates the expert from the leader is the stage presence goal: the expert likes complexity because it values his know-how; the leader likes simplicity because it allows him to address everyone. How well can you synthesize and bring it all together?

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