Friday, March 15, 2013

Booringgg / Don't Question me

When my mom asked my nephew and niece if they wanted to take violin classes they both sang in unison, "Boooringggg." Visions of Carnegie Hall that my mom may have had disappeared precipitously. I happened to agree with my niece and nephews assessment of the instrument - it can be monotonous. However hindsight being 20/20 I was glad my parents "encouraged" me to play.  With my two kids we never mentioned instrument instruction, however they discovered my old violin hidden somewhere in a closet. One of their friends at school plays the instrument and this discovery fascinated them. They attempted playing, tuning, discovered one of the strings missing. They looked up videos on how to play. Fast forward one month and now they are asking for violin classes. It is interesting that essentially the same demographic of kids have polar opposite reactions.

The perception of boredom is much worse than actually giving a bad talk. In fact the best talk may sometimes be no talk at all. When kids discover on their own they find things naturally interesting. This was the case with our kids and the violin. How do we replicate this in sabha? Many people feel asking questions is the way to go. Ask many many questions. The kids will "discover" the answer. The talk will be interactive. If you have ever thought this or done this, please as a personal favor stop. Don't ever do this again. This one of the two most common ways to make any topic boring (the other is reading off the paper). When we ask questions that are simplistic (even in Bal/Balika 1) the kids don't answer because they understand that there is no point in answering. There was a talk on Maya in Bal 1 that started with: "What is Maya?" One of the precocious balaks (and future sanchalak in my opinion) replied, "Isn't that what you are supposed to tell us?" There was a talk during a KarCon a while back where one of the speakers asked, "Who is the President of the United States?" Nobody answered. These were yuvatis. They knew the answer. It was just not worth their while to answer. Or they may answer in ways which to us may not be the "correct" answer and it impedes our talk.

It is not to say that asking questions is always a bad idea. Sometimes they work wonderfully. During a informal kids talk many years ago (where all ages from shishu to yuvak/yuvati were in attendance). One Sant narrated the story of Shravan and then asked, "Do you think Shravan ever argued with his parents?" This was a wonderful question since it required thought. Not just on the part of the audience, but on the part of the presenter as well. He spend time thinking about what question to ask. He did not use the question as a crutch, he used it as a tool.

Gretchen Rubin shares a blog post on learning to detect if you are boring someone. While it is aimed at conversation, parts are applicable to presentations as well. This is important, since learning to notice boredom in our audience can help us combat it - hopefully by not asking inane questions.

6. Body position. People with a good connection generally turn fully to face each other. A person who is partially turned away isn’t fully embracing the conversation. I pay special attention to body position when I’m in a meeting and trying to show (or feign) interest: I sit forward in my chair, and keep my attention obviously focused on whoever is speaking, instead of looking down at papers, gazing into space, or checking my phone (!).
Along the same lines, if you’re a speaker trying to figure out if an audience is interested in what you’re saying:
7. Audience posture. Back in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper in 1885 called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He determined that people slouch and lean when bored, so a speaker can measure the boredom of an audience by seeing how far from vertically upright they are. Also, attentive people fidget less; bored people fidget more. An audience that’s upright and still is interested, while an audience that’s horizontal and squirmy is bored.
I also remind myself of La Rochefoucauld's observation: “We are always bored by those whom we bore.” If I’m bored, there’s a good chance the other person is bored, too. Time to find a different subject.

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