Don’t Make Your Audience Feel Dumb

Last year, in a moment of weakness, we signed up for meal delivery from Hello Fresh. They have a cool logo, a cool name and – most importantly – a product that would alleviate stress in my life.

One problem: they’re liars.

In what world can any normal person finish cooking these meals in 30 minutes? Yet that was the promise on their menu cards.

After a few “30 minutes or less” meals had my polite family feeling irritably asking “how much longer is this going to take?” I started timing myself.

Mozzarella Crusted Chicken in 30 minutes? Took me 65.
Korean Beef Bibimbap? An extra 25 minutes.
20 minutes for Quick Lemon Crusted Chicken Cutlets? Actually, 42.

Food was good, sometimes great and I got quite an education on how much sour cream goes into sauces. Yet I’d emerge from every recipe feeling inadequate. Feeling dumb.

Y’all, don’t make your audience feel dumb.

Yet speakers do it all the time.

I don’t think anyone does it intentionally. But most of us have a deep dark fear of sounding stupid. Of sounding basic.

To compensate, we use big words. Take deep dives when no one asks for them. We explain the ins and outs of a process when one sentence would do.

In trying to make ourselves sound smart, we make the audience feel dumb. Ironically.

There’s a better approach.

I like how my friend Jon Collins says it: your audience is smart. They’re just uninformed. Your job as communicator is to present your information in such a way that it snaps and crackles and pops with them.

I’ve found the best way to do that is through story. Think about it – if you tell a good story, it wipes out any of the “do they know this already? Are they going to think I’m dumb?” fears.

They might know the concept.
They don’t know your story.

Use stories to walk your audience through a process.
Use stories to explain concepts.
Use stories to prove a point.

Use stories to make your audience feel.

Now, you might be saying “yeah Mike, but I’m terrible at telling stories.” If so, listen to yours truly provide insight here.

Or maybe you’re one of those people who thinks “my life is boring. I don’t have any stories.” Fear not! My friend Laura just released a free PDF to help you mine everyday life for stories.

[While we’re here, listen to my podcast episode with Laura. It’s not every guest who can discuss vending machine food on a moment’s notice]

By every account stories are what people remember. And they won’t make your audience feel dumb. Take the time to find them, craft them and deliver them. Your audience will love you for it.


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Metaphorically speaking, a lot of us do the same when we start a speech: we make it all about ourselves. We read our resume to the audience.

Y’all. We don’t need to do that. At best that comes off as braggy; more likely it comes off as insecure. 

Don't be that guy.

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These are stories, hacks, speech critiques and recommendations. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing these.


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