Bridging the Divide

I was at a careers fair last week, which unwittingly presented an important but often overlooked lesson in the art of getting your message across. 

The hall was full of tables for all the various businesses and contributors, and this was the view from mine - 

It was a double barricade from the students who were our audience. Not just a table in front of me, but a couple of signs as well. 

Some of the other exhibitors were sitting behind their desks, and - perhaps not surprisingly - getting little in the way of interest. 

So up I stood and lingered beside the table. 

In the flow of the passing student body, not separated from. 

And surprise, surprise, I had a steady stream of the journalists and writers of the future to talk to. 

(Many of whom, I have no doubt, will be brilliant in their chosen careers - the level of talent, energy and commitment on show was a delight.)

So, the principle behind my little story is simple - 

Anything that divides you from an audience impedes effective communication. 

When I give a lecture, you won't find me lurking behind the lectern. 

I like to come out and wander back and forth, so I can make eye contact with the group, make it feel like I'm talking to everyone in the room individually. 

Part of it is the symbolism. 

Hide yourself away and you look scared, intimidated, perhaps (subconsciously, in the minds of the audience) not quite sure of your subject. 

But come out and speak and you're confident, and in command. 

I also like to set little exercises to emphasise certain points in my talks.

And at that stage, when the audience is working on them, I wander through the lecture theatre, to see how everyone is getting on. 

On a practical level, I can help if someone needs extra support.

More subtly, the message it sends is that I'm one of them; not separate, aloof and above, but a fellow traveller on the learning journey. 

I understand why hiding away behind the unspoken symbols of authority, like a lectern, or table, is tempting. 

But for true communication, the fewer barriers between you and your audience, the better.