Sometimes You Have to Choose
I live across the street from two restaurant sheds* that take up five parking spots.
That’s what a client of mine recently said in an interview about her New York City neighborhood. (*”Restaurant sheds” are outdoor dining areas located in parking spaces, driving lanes, or on public sidewalks.)
I loved her quote, which gets right to the heart of the matter, at least from the perspective of people who own cars. (If you’ve ever tried to park on the street in NYC—got a half hour, anyone?—five spaces lost to restaurant service is a gut punch.)
But my client’s husband disagreed. He thought she should have said,
I live across the street from two restaurant sheds that take up the length of five parking spots.
And while he’s got a technical point—the outdoor enclosures take up a space that’s equivalent to what would otherwise have been five parking spots—my response to his suggestion was a resounding NO.
Your Colleagues May Want Precise. Your Audience Wants Memorable
The type of precision-based critique that my client’s husband offered is common in business. Often, colleagues who are reviewing your speech will point out “mistakes” like these:
- It’s not correct that 43% of customers love our new flavor. The actual number is 43.3%
- You forgot to mention that 5.6% of respondents declined to answer.
- You should say that the study was conducted on September 15-18.
While all of these points may be correct, none of them are interesting to your audience—unless you’re speaking to a group of statisticians or data analysts. If that’s the case, feel free to add the information; you’ll get a talk that sounds like this:
On September 15-18, we conducted a survey of existing customers to determine their opinion of our new flavor. And while 5.6% of the people we surveyed declined to respond, 43.3% of respondents checked the preference labeled “I love it.” All other responses were either in the “like it” or “like it a lot” columns.
There’s nothing wrong with that statement. But for a non-technical audience—let’s say, a group of sales representatives who’ll be promoting the new product—it’s more memorable to say something like:
Last fall, more than 2 out of 5 customers told us they loved our new flavor—and everyone else who answered the question either liked it or liked it a lot.
And even that more intuitive statement is just a preliminary to what your audience really wants to hear, which is:
That’s why we’re moving straight into a national roll-out, instead of extending the trials in our test markets.
We Remember What Has Meaning for Our Lives
Just as “parking spaces” are memorable to New Yorkers who can’t find one, “national roll-out” is memorable to an audience of sales reps who want to know where and when they’re going to get to sell the new flavor.
In that context, the difference between 43% and 43.3% is meaningless, and the fact that this number was generated over three days in September is irrelevant.
What counts—what’s memorable to an audience—is how the information effects us. Does it better our prospects, or signal an oncoming storm?
That’s the question your talk has to answer first. The rest, as they say, is just the details.