Public Speaking for Geeks

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 12th, 2008
Feb 12

This blog is a place to discuss public speaking, communication and influence for those of us who work in technical or scientific fields. In the many years I have been involved in the technology industry, one recurring fact has been hammered home into my mind over and over – the best ideas do not win, the best communicated ideas win. No matter how incredible and world changing your idea, invention, product, service, or solution is, if you are unable to effectively communicate the value it will go nowhere.

Chip and Stan Heath (authors of Made to Stick) capture the special frustration I and many others in technical fields often feel when communicating about complicated subjects in this excellent interview posted by Guy Kawasaki -


And that brings us to the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise. Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.” Experts just need to devote a little time to applying the basic principles of stickiness. JFK dodged the Curse. If he’d been a modern-day politician or CEO, he’d probably have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry, using our capacity for technological innovation to build a bridge towards humanity’s future.” That might have set a moon walk back fifteen years.


My goal for this blog is to share with you the lessons I have learned fighting the curse of knowledge to improve my communication. I hope many of you will be willing to share what you have learned about communicating as well. I plan to post regularly and I hope that readers of this blog will feel comfortable jumping into the conversation.




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3 Responses

  1. Mick Huesen Says:

    What a great idea! I look forward to reading more.

  2. Public Speaking for Geeks » Blog Archive » Public Speaking for Geeks - The Technical Speaker’s Crutch - February 28, 2008 Says:

    [...] us you should not "pack everything you know into the side deck" (another way of saying you have fight the curse of knowledge). I think a few people in the class wanted to leave at that point. A few looked ready to just quit [...]

  3. Public Speaking for Geeks » Blog Archive » The Inner Game of Public Speaking Says:

    [...] Several years back, I played a great deal of tennis. I found that I could do extremely well in practice, and just as poorly in a real match. I was desperate to understand why, and read many books and watched many videos on how to perform each stroke. While I did learn several new ways to hit a forehand or a serve, my results actually got worse. I was cursed with too much knowledge. [...]

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