Communication is Like Cake: Know When to Say When

Communication is Like CakeHow much communication is too much? That’s a question that inevitably arises whenever I do a presentation or interview.

Specifically, people will ask:

  1. When expressing emotion, how much emoting is too much?
  2. When doing business, how much chit chat is too much?
  3. When presenting to an audience, how much eye contact is too much?

A Matter of Judgment

Communication is like cake. Most right-thinking folk love cake, but few would want to dig into a 13-layer cake. After the first few layers, the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.

So where do you draw the line on these communication issues? It’s tough to give the kind of clear-cut answer people want, because it really comes down to basic human judgment—the ability to read and respond to social cues.

But here’s a little guidance.

The Judicious Use of Emotion

Emotion can be a powerful tool for breaking through to audiences. Events that are charged with emotion have a much more long-lasting effect on us. And people often make decisions based more on emotion than logic.

So I always recommend an appeal to emotion for persuading audiences. But how much is too much?

I hope it goes without saying, but I’m not talking about uncontrolled outbursts, putting your fist through walls or crying at the drop of a hat.

I’m talking about the judicious use of emotion for a strategic purpose. So get passionate, talk about something you love, appeal to pride or express a little righteous indignation.

Do it sincerely, but don’t lose control.

The Limits of Chit Chat

When networking or doing business, it’s always nice to ease into things by talking about everyday stuff—family, the weather, sports.

How much is too much depends to an extent on who you are in the relationship. If you’re the client or the boss, you’ve got more leeway.

If you’re the vendor or the employee, it’s best to read the cues of the other person. Respond and share in kind and let them take the lead.

When you’re peers, read their body language. If you’re sufficiently self-aware and focused on the needs of others you should know when enough is enough.

See where this gets tricky?

The Fine Line Between Courteous and Creepy

Okay, this should be pretty easy. Eye contact is absolutely essential when you’re giving a speech or presentation. It’s the best way to connect with your audience and to gauge how you’re doing.

So you want to scan the room and check in individually with people.

How much is too much? Believe me, when it gets to be too much, you will both know it. After a few seconds, things will get pretty creepy. And if you don’t feel like a creep, chances are the person you’re staring at will make you feel like one.

Is Communication Like Cake?

I should add that I’m no expert on cake. I imagine for some people, 13 layers would present no issue at all. If you’re one of them, I apologize. Just substitute a very large version of something you don’t care for.

Otherwise, I hope this clears things up.


Photo Credit: Sweetapolita via Compfight cc