The Distance of Understanding


You’re scheduled to present on a topic we’ll just call “X.” As you build your presentation, you fuss over key messages, slide order, objectives and calls-to-action. Finally, you’re standing in front of the audience. In the dim light, your glowing title slide reads “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About X.” It’s a full house—row upon row of expectant faces.

Then you do something unusual. You ask everyone in the room to stand up and reseat themselves according to their understanding of “X.” You clarify your instructions: you want people who have very little (or no) understanding of “X” to head to the back of the room and the people who have a full understanding to sit in the front row. Those with some understanding, or knowledge, should sit somewhere in the middle.

After the ensuing chaos, a standing room only crowd fills the back of the room with a smattering of people in between. You then instruct the audience to move forward one row each time their understanding increases during your presentation. As you click through your slides, you watch the audience cascade from the dark reaches of the back row—closer and closer to the stage.

Now this is an impractical (and inadvisable) scenario meant for illustration purposes only. However, with any audience there is a measure beyond the physical space of the room. Each audience member has a distance of understanding from their position and yours. As a presenter, your job is to move them closer to yours.

When building your presentation and fussing over key messages, think about your audience and their distance of understanding. What information can you deliver? What facts can you display? What emotional spark can you inject to get them to move forward—to move closer?

You need to reduce the distance of understanding—to close the gap.

Michael CampbellComment