Off the Shelf: Plugging the Holes

In The Science of Speaking, I cite David Rose’s advice to avoid saying anything your audience know isn’t true. In Steal the Show: How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life, Michael Port elaborates on this idea, advising speakers to “give a presentation that doesn’t have any holes to poke.” In particular, he writes,

I always leave room for [the audience’s] perspective. For example, if I use absolutes in my language, if I say marketing “never” gets you clients, then I’ve created holes that are easy to poke. Of, if I use other absolutes like everybody, everything, always, or no one, it’s pretty easy for someone to poke a hole in my position. For example, if I say “No one likes earwax-flavored ice cream,” you could refute my theory because it’s possible that someone does, as crazy as it sounds, like earwax-flavored ice cream. … It’s unlikely you can close every hole, but do everything within your power to make your arguments solid. If you do, it’s less likely you or your work will be criticized. Plus, all generalities are false. Including that one.

While this adds on to my advice to avoid saying things that aren’t true, it appears to contradict my advice about not hedging, based on data from Quantified Communications.

As always, it’s all about finding balance, in this case, between hedging and generalizing. The ultimate takeaway, as Port puts it, is to make sure your arguments are solid—you don’t want the audience to question you because you’re hedging, but you also don’t want to question you because you’re overgeneralizing.

Leave a Reply