I gave a short talk to a local community group last week, where I spoke about autism and the work of the National Autistic Society. I’m a volunteer speaker for the Society, so I give some of these talks every now and then, to raise awareness of autism and of the work that the Society does for people with autism and their families.
I arrived at the evening’s venue, a local golf club, and was met by the president of the organisation that I was speaking to. He was a friendly chap, probably in his late sixties or early seventies, and he bought me a drink at the bar before showing me where I’d be giving my talk. And then he asked me whether I’d need time to set up my laptop and projector.
This came as a bit of a surprise, as I’d come armed with little more than a good mood and a vague idea of what I wanted people to learn before they went away. And so, rather than try to dazzle my audience with graphics or subdue them with bullet points of text, I just talked to them for twenty five minutes or so. I told them some of the facts, asked about their own experiences, included a few stories of my own, and then responded to their questions until it was time to wrap up.
And it was really good. I enjoyed speaking to them, I think they enjoyed listening to me, and we all left knowing a little bit more than when we arrived. Which, from my point of view, is a success.
But it made me think about how we so often put up barriers to effective communication. How we frequently fail to get our message across. Sometimes we get so tied up in how we deliver the message, that we forget about the substance. Other times we use our own technical language rather than words that our audience will understand. And on occasion we deliberately obfuscate because we don’t actually have anything to say at all.
My dad liked out point out that if you didn’t have anything useful to say, then you shouldn’t say anything*. And, in this, I agree with him. Sometimes we try to communicate too much, and we end up saying nothing at all. We have so much communications technology at our fingertips, we forget that the message is what matters. So here’s to just sitting down and talking with people.
* He put it slightly more colourfully, as anyone who knew my father will be able to imagine.