Assume, assumed, assumption – words that fly in the face of “clarity” of message.

Lets start with a dictionary definition for assume – (Merriam-Webster)

1 a : to take up or in : receive b : to take into partnership, employment, or use
2 a : to take to or upon oneself : undertake <assume responsibility> b : put ondon c : to place oneself in <assume a position>
3 : seizeusurp <assume control>
4 : to pretend to have or be : feign <assumed an air of confidence in spite of her dismay>
5 : to take as granted or true : suppose <I assume he’ll be there>
6 : to take over (the debts of another) as one’s own

The key definitions in our context are to “pretend to have or be” and “to take for granted or true”.  The former because we as presenters often assume an air of knowledge regarding our subject and the latter because our audience approaches information gap filling with assumptions.

Firstly a story, a relative has been in hospital for a few days and has been moved from a regional facility to a metropolitan facility at the request of their surgeon. The regional hospital was staffed with locals who know the family and they communicated freely regarding the patients condition and the treatment being provided.

A decision was made, due to the patients overall condition, to transfer them to the larger metropolitan hospital and the first task was to source appropriate transport. The hospital talked to the ambulance service and after considerable back and forward negotiation the plan was to use a road ambulance for the 2+ hour journey. When the road ambulance arrived the assumption that this form of transport was suitable, based upon what they had been told, was immediately challenged and an air ambulance arranged to cover the larger part of the journey. Note the two issues involved – clarity (of communication) and the resulting assumption regarding method of transport.

Now fast forward to the metropolitan hospital, a large and very busy facility, where the staff to patient ratio’s are very different and everyone has many jobs to do. Getting information about the patients condition has been very difficult. There has been little communication FROM the hospital and if questions had not been asked then the family would know little. The family’s assumption is that the level of patient care is far less than in the regional hospital.

What does this mean for our presentations? The most apparent point is that  your audience will assume information where you provide little or none. They will fill in the holes themselves with data based upon their experience, additional research, comments for others and so on. It is likely that the information that they obtain will differ from the information that you would have provided…if they had asked.

“If they had asked” or “they didn’t ask” are excuses used by presenters who fail to cover the required content in their delivery and “required content” means what the audience needed and expected to receive.

The next logical point is what did the audience need and expect to receive? Ah, we have now arrived at the crucial point of this post. What must you deliver to meet the audiences need for clarity?

This is the Art and Science of presenting. Knowing what to say and how much to say comes form experience or from studying other presenters who have that experience already. Watch and learn. Then watch and learn some more. Refine and apply what you have learned.

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