Presentation Hack: Have Any of You Idiots Not Seen This?

This blog was inspired by a Twitter post by and resulting thread conversation with Liz Keogh. I don't know her or Marc Burgauer, who was the subject of the original tweet. However, the topic made me initially cringe in the imagery it invoked. 

To be fair to both of them, I have never seen them speak, present, give a keynote, or run a workshop - live or on video. I have never even heard any feedback or commentary about how they do so. This is not a blog about's about public speaking in general. 

There is a saying in public speaking: Know thy audience. We should have some idea on who they are, what their backgrounds are, what they value, what motivates them, what makes them afraid, when they expect a lunch break. 

We should also have some understanding of what they know, the words they use, what they are familiar with, and maybe even what they tend to believe. When we know these things, we can better relate to individuals in a group. This helps them learn, make connections, buy into your theories, and ultimately take action! 

What Liz Keogh's tweet referenced was someone who had "asked who had never heard of Cynefin... and nobody put their hand up!" Seems innocent enough, right? But that short statement made me cringe. And enticed me to reply.
Why? Because I question the value of those sorts of questions in public settings. I see that tactic in police training. All the time. Here's an example:

An instructor wants to show a video. Maybe of a traffic stop. Maybe from a body camera. He stands up there in front of the first frame of the video and asks, "Has anyone seen this video?" Of course a bunch of hands go up. He realizes that most of the class has. He then shifts if considering now not showing the video in class to conserve time. "OK OK...has anyone NOT seen this video?"

Now imagine yourself in the middle of class. You're surrounded by people who have already seen it. But you haven't! Clearly there is value in watching the video. After all, the instructor brought it up and wants to show it. But there is NO WAY you're going to raise your hand... and make all your classmates watch it again. You'll try to find it online after class and watch it by yourself.

No hands go up.

Why the fear to raise you hand?

Because the instructor asked it in a way that made you feel uncomfortable in doing so. Everyone already knows that most everyone knows it. Or about it. Or has experienced it. The trainer has made it unsafe for you to be vulnerable. And not through any ill-will, bad intent, intimidation, or other. He genuinely wanted to know who had or had not seen the video. But maybe it was something in they way he worded the question or in his tone that put you hiding in a corner. For that moment, it was not safe for you.

Therefore, the instructor did not get an accurate picture of who had or had not seen the video. He was fooled. Because it wasn't just you who were afraid to put up your hand. There were others who were also afraid. And that instructor may have made an on-the-fly decision....on faulty information.

So what can we do as instructors, presenters, or moderators?

We need to make it safe for "asymmetry" of knowledge, understanding, familiarity, and experience. It's got to be OK to have not been exposed to something. We must give them permission to be ignorant. In fact, let's take it one step even higher: We should embrace those who do not know!!! 

Imagine if the instructor had said something else instead as he prepared to play a video for class:
If you've seen this video already, please be quiet for a moment. Don't spoil or ruin the experience for those who have not yet seen it. Actually, I'm sorta jealous of you who haven't seen it you'll get to be surprised and watch this unfold just as those people in the video did. I want to hear from you first. And I want to watch your face as your follow the situation in front of you. Where are we can get your initial impressions of this video? Raise your hands for us. You will soon be in the best position to comment on this.
I bet you'd be more willing to raise your hand to let everyone know you haven't seen the video yet. You're now the center of attraction. You're about to learn something. Not only is it OK that you have less "experience," but it's being celebrated. And that's a big difference in how attendees of presentations filter out fear or anxiety.

If we truly want to get accurate responses about who knows what....or maybe more importantly who DOES NOT KNOW what, we must consider emotions regarding deception and resistance to acknowledging this asymmetry. If we do not, we increase the chances that someone will pretend to know or pretend to understand. Even when directly asked with a seemingly neutral or benign question.

We, as presenters and trainers, should seek out how emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) impacts our messaging and our questioning. How does it influence the truthfulness of our audience? Why might they not answer truthfully? What can we do to get the most honest feedback?

If we are being emotionally indifferent or do not truly care what the responses are, why even ask the question to begin with? Why ask if the question is set up so some people are likely to answer untruthfully. Just because you're curious? We should only ask if we have a purpose, which might be an intent to change our presentation on-the-fly to address the information asymmetries in our audience...and we do so in a manner that maximizes truth and accuracy. If the answer or accuracy doesn't matter: don't even ask.

I hope the next time you consider asking your audience or attendees what they know or don't know...that you also consider some aspects of emotional intelligence, specifically fears and motivations, to solicit the best information....for the best of reasons. Don't just state that it's OK to not know; embrace the asymmetry!!

Now how did Marc Burgauer poll his audience? I have no idea. It's quite possible that he made it safe for attendees to acknowledge and admit their asymmetry. I hope so. Otherwise, he and Liz Keogh may have been fooled. Haha.

Maybe we ask because we want to better know thy audience. That's great. Let's be purposeful in how we hunt for that information.


I publish a handful of blog posts under the label Presentation Hack. Check them out for ideas, tips, and tricks to better public speaking!


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


  1. a key part of knowing your audience is not just the specifics of who is in the particular audience, but also remembering what it's like to be part of an audience.

    1. Absolutely. How quickly someone goes from complaining about Death By PowerPoint from back of the room...right onto stage & reading from his/her slides to the same audience.


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