Chris Carlson of Narrative Pros - Entrepreneur, Actor, Attorney
Measuring Our Way to the Meaning Age
We have all been bored at some point in our lives, right? I know I have. At least some of that boredom probably came from someone talking at you. Not with you, but at you.
Recently, a physics professor made news (e.g here and here) for speaking out against what I would have assumed would be his bread and butter: the college lecture. What I found so fascinating (and more than a little inspiring) is that the professor did something about it: he measured that pain.
Measuring Our Pain
He empirically tested different teaching methods and discovered that lectures were inefficient at engaging students. Alternative methods such as polling, small group discussion, and one-on-one coaching were three times more effective.
Public address is a method of communication that works well in the right situations, used correctly, by people who know how to maximize its benefits. It's helpful to think of public speaking as a specialized tool designed to help accomplish a specific task. Just like Grandma's butter knife works great on your toast, but not so well putting together your Hemnes bookcase from Ikea.
Just as the professor showed, a tool is only as good its ability to achieves the intended goal. In making his case against the lecture format, however, he actually made a compelling case for more meaningful experiences.
This does not necessarily exclude all lectures, just the ones ill-suited to engaging their audience. Bad lectures, like bad meetings and poor presentations, are a disservice to productive, connective and meaningful face-to-face interactions.
The New Age
With so many options to efficiently communicate information differently based on its complexity and significance, in-person communication grows more valuable in its ability to convey deep meaning through genuine person-to-person connection.
Texts are well suited for quick and low-stakes information (e.g. "Meet you there.").
Emails are for more complicated, less time-senstivie communications (e.g. "Re: Summary of What We Discussed There").
Voice calls are for even more nuanced and important exchanges (e.g. "What did you mean by there?").
Each method works well for what it is good at. Each tool falls short when it's pushed beyond its effectiveness.
Just as technology pushed us from the Industrial to the Information Age, I believe technology is also urging his toward a new age, the Meaning Age.
We gather in-person to make sense of the world, to connect with each other and interpret ubiquitous data. The rarity of person-to-person contact increases the pressure for efficient and effective connections.
The Science of Expertise
When someone stands in front of an audience to read bullet points from a slide which we are capable of reading ourselves at double the speed, it’s not only inefficient but it’s an insult to our scarce attention. We have so little time not to make more meaning whenever we can.
But as the professor demonstrated, there is hope. Great speakers, like any experts, are made, not born. Over time, with feedback and advice, anyone can achieve greatness.
The science of expertise has emerged outlining the consistent hallmarks of expert development over multiple disciplines, cultures and centuries. This is what all great performers do—from Olympians to great professors, from chess champions to outstanding executives.
The next time you are in a meeting, listening to a lecture, or anywhere else someone is talking, try this exercise and ask yourself:
Is the time I'm spending meaningful?
Is there a more efficient and effective way to create more meaning?
What can I do to help make more meaning next time?
The answers could not only save you from boredom and bring you more meaning, but also do the same for many, many others.
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For over a decade, Chris Carlson has trained knowledge workers in narratively communicating complex messages to critical audiences to maximize returns of interest and value. Chris has, for the past 22 years, performed professionally on stage, screen and radio in over 200 productions. (Portfolio).
Chris also practices law, specializing in asylum and related immigration relief. Chris speaks about, writes on and trains in the art and science of applying professional artistic technique to unlock personal and business narrative potential. He has been the Lead Teaching Artist for Corporate Training at the Guthrie theater since 2008 where he brings the nation’s leading regional theater into collaborations with local and national business leaders.