Granular vs. global

Teaching or presenting often leaves me with a niggling feeling of uncertainty.

I know the content I meant to convey, but what exactly was the message received by the participants or the audience – or rather the individuals that make these up, as the process of absorption of information is highly subjective and will vary from person to person.

This to me is the challenge and great mystery of teaching – I think the way in which one addresses it changes over time, evolving in step with your experience as a instructor or presenter.

The degree of information you can gain from observing an audience is fairly limited for a number of reasons, especially when dealing with a large group. It is a different matter in a one on one situation, but groups can have a significant impact on an individual’s behaviour.

So it makes sense to deliver a message that is concise and unambiguous. On reflection, if I had to sum up my personal evolution on how I attempt to deliver my content, how I tell my story, it is a transition from  a granular view towards a more global one…

Looking back, when I embarked upon the trip that ultimately ended up where I am today, my view of the topics I was discussing was initially very granular, really going down into minute details, disassembling content down to very fine constituent components – this view can deliver a very specific and technical picture.

Although I think this approach has many merits, today I would differentiate where, when and how I use it: in some contexts this analytical, granular perspective is the perfect tool to gain deeper insight into a topic, but it requires an audience that has a corresponding level of competency, otherwise you are going to lose them en route…

For this reason increasingly I ask myself prior to an event what the absolute essence is of what I am trying to communicate, what is the core of the matter? So for instance, I frequently find myself stripping presentations right down when I dust them down after not having done them in a while. Kill your heroes? Certainly how it feels when you dump that favorite analogy of yours or image out of a presentation – because ultimately it is static cluttering up the airwaves, merely distracting from the key message.

Hell, come to that, using PowerPoint – or Keynote – used to be a standard part of every workshop or presentation I did, as an aid to set the scene and introduce a topic. Today in many ways I prefer a whiteboard or flipchart and whiteboard markers over a projector as they are simply the more flexible tools, allowing you to dive in deeper where necessary – or skip points that are not relevant.

A global view is achieved by stepping back from the topic, considering overarching targets or issues. When discussing rigging, I can choose the granular route, by delving into the constituent parts involved, getting bogged down in pulleys, bollards and friction devices, the technical spec of rigging lines and slings, vector forces or standards. Or I can take that step back and ask myself what the main targets are when rigging? The highest degree of control possible and managing various forms of energy might be one answer to that question.

In my books, a good presenter or teacher is able to switch between granular and global views, depending upon topic, audience and context and will use the two approaches in a differentiated, selective fashion.

I have been guilty of all the above, and in all honesty still struggle today to strike the right balance – but once again, as is often the case, giving something a name can be helpful to approach it in a more mindful fashion, and by doing so ultimately, hopefully, maybe, getting better at what you do.