For whom do we write?

Last week, I was having dinner (by chance) with some of the world experts in my field. We discussed conference-styles and one of them suggested that a talk should have three parts:

  • one understandable by all
  • one understandable by the experts only
  • one understandable by the speaker alone

If you have been following this blog or know me a bit, you might imagine my next question: Why the third part? I can understand that it is nice to offer something to both experts and non-experts, but what is the purpose of keeping one third beyond the level of understandability? The answer was: A talk is also a chance to self-promote yourself. You need to show that you are an expert, even more than the experts who are listening to you.

Today, another colleague, sent me back an article for a collection I am editing with the following question (more or less): Why do you want me to make things easier? Should not the readership try harder?

I strongly disagree with the talk-recipee as I am inclined to see my mission as linked to the essay to communicate the little bit I managed to understand to as many interested people as possible (“interested” is needed: I am ready to teach neither Sanskrit nor philosophy in primary school to kids who see school as a waste of time). I enjoy sharing and do not enjoy monologues. Furthermore, our field is small enough and I do not think we can afford to select only the best among us —unless we decide to speak only to a few chosen ones.

What do you think? Are you ecumenical or selective in your talks and articles?

By the way, in case you have read my articles or listened to a talk by me, would you say I am selective or ecumenical? I noticed that people may very well be misled regarding their communicative skills.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “For whom do we write?

  1. I have two responses: first, human diversity means that there isn’t one kind of presentational style that’s RIGHT for everyone. Some people may need to speak mostly for themselves; other’s are communcators. We’re all different. Second, you don’t mention one interesting function of public speaking: discovery. I don’t suppose I’m alone in this: when I lecture, I often discover things in the course of the talk that I didn’t know before, or that weren’t quite clear to me. So the “understandable by the speaker alone” style, which initially sounds a bit selfish and pointless, may have an important function after all. Personal learning.

    • Hi Dominik and thanks for your comment. Just in case it was not clear: I was not suggesting that there is only one way for succesful talks (and even less that my way is the only correct one). Rather, I was suggesting that one should ask oneself what is one target audience, in order to be aware of what one is doing.

      As for the discoveries one makes during a talk, these happen *for me* in two cases: a) During the Q/A time, b) Whenever I have to explain something in clear terms.

      a) is perhaps obvious: Someone asks me something, or points to an aspect of the question I had overseen, and I am surprised to notice that I do know the answer —although I did not know I knew it.
      b) happens whenever I am forced to explain to a wider public something I thought I had understood. It is usually a chance to see whether I have really understood it.

  2. I do not believe in the concept of ‘knowledge for its own sake’ (Cardinal Newman, is it?) ; ‘thinking with a purpose’ (Susan Stebbing, is it?) suits me. And that is why I try to communicate to as many interested readers or listeners as possible. I appreciate your way of writing (sorry, I had no opportunity of listening to you), for in this regard we are on the same wave length.

    • Thank you for pointing out the background theory. I had not thought about it, but now I think you are right.