How The Wrong Example Alienates Your Audience

by Sean D'Souza

(Also listen to the audio at the end of this article)

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Examples have a singular goal: They help the reader understand a concept. But could the wrong example actually alienate an audience? And how would you know which kind of example would alienate you?

Let’s look at a simple example of a ‘rocking chair.’

So if were to talk about a ‘rocking chair’, for instance, you’d immediately see an image in your brain. I could then connect the concept of a ‘rocking chair’ to the concept of ‘lots of motion, but going nowhere.’

But why choose a rocking chair?

You choose a rocking chair, because you’ve seen a rocking chair.
I’ve seen a rocking chair. Even in today’s world, where rocking chairs are rarer, we know what a rocking chair looks like.

And how it rocks.

Baseball on the other hand, doesn’t ‘rock.’
You may be a great fan of baseball, for instance. And so to illustrate a point, you may use an example of something that happens in baseball.

And immediately you’ve alienated a good chunk of your audience
No matter if you’re speaking to group of people, writing an article, or writing a sales letter, you’re sure to send a decent part of your audience into a tailspin.

This is because they probably don’t watch baseball

They don’t know the rules of baseball.
They come from a non-baseball playing country.
They live in a baseball-country and detest the darned thing.

On average, no one detests rocking chairs
Or teapots.
Or computers.
Or airports.

What’s more, every member of your audience can relate to the example, because it’s so common.

What you’re looking for is to keep your example as common as possible
The purpose of using an example is to simplify things. If you use examples that put up a wall in my brain, you’re doing quite the opposite of simplification. You’re causing my brain to rebel, To stutter. Or for the example to plainly bounce over my head.

Bounce ain’t good
That’s why, when I do a Brain Audit presentation for instance, I’ll use simple examples such as:
1) Collecting your bags at the airport.
2) The news on TV.
3) Dog poo on the road

When I write articles, I’ll write about:
1) Firemen putting out a fire.
2) The lawn mowing guy
3) The plane flying outside my window.

In salesletters, I’ve used the concepts of:

1) Getting into the wrong car.
2) Fly buzzing on the window.
3) Eating at a restaurant.

And other such examples which are every day occurrences.

This keeps my audience/readers focused on simple examples.

So make sure your examples have a singular goal because they help the reader understand a concept. That way you won’t alienate your audience. Hey, you’ll probably get a standing ovation.

P.S. Despite the need to be clever, also avoid any references to ‘mother-in-law jokes, ex-wife/husband’ and other such issues that bring up strong emotions.

Every day objects and situations don’t carry the baggage of emotion. So stick to every day objects and situations. It’s simpler.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi September 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Hi sean,
thanks for reminding- most of the time I am so absorbed by my own experience that I forget that someone else just is not on this line of thought….
By the way: are you sure

“On average, no one detests rocking chairs

Or computers.” ???:-)

Reply

Sean DSouza September 26, 2009 at 12:46 am

No you can’t ever be sure that no one detests rocking chairs or computers. There’s always someone that detests something. But at least you’re reducing the odds. I know what you’re saying. I don’t use the computers analogy a lot, but I do use concepts like chairs, airports, the newspaper, the drive home. And dog poo. Yes, dog poo…the stuff everyone unanimously detests.

By the way: are you sure

“On average, no one detests rocking chairs

Or computers.” ???:-)

Reply

Lydia, Clueless Crafter September 25, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I never thought about examples and their relationship to my audience with this awareness. I wonder if I’ve alienated many people? Ugh, I just gave an example that may have been offensive.

Thanks for the heads up.

Reply

Sean DSouza September 26, 2009 at 12:51 am

Very few people complain, but they’re screaming in their brains. I remember once talking about a rather throwaway comment on ‘women over 40′. This audience member was quite mad at me. In the break (which was a good hour later) she told me that she didn’t appreciate the so-called ‘humour’. Imagine that. For one hour, whatever I said must have bounced clear over her, because of one random comment. I’ve seen these situations in books too, and especially American books written by American males. They’ll give these long analogies about baseball. Like anyone cares. It’s alright if your book is about baseball. And it’s partially alright if you take an example and then explain what happens in the baseball situation. But you don’t want to just throw an example without explanation, as it will bounce over the heads of the audience. Better still, it’s good to stick to an example that’s easy to connect with in every day life.

Reply

Jon P September 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Conversely, your examples could help self-select the audience you want to connect with. I guess the whole point is that awareness of your audience is key to communicating. And it’s a point well taken.

Reply

McKinney Landscaping March 19, 2010 at 3:07 am

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