How Much is Too Much to Leave Out?

When you challenge traditional wisdom, the first hand in the air will often be that of a guardian of the status quo who will challenge you with an “outlier argument,” pointing to that rare exception as though it disproves your premise.

But an outlier does not disprove the rule. In fact, statisticians consider data to be more reliable when it has an appropriate number of outliers. Data that presents itself uniformly usually indicates a bias in the methods used for information gathering.

Are there people in your life who challenge your every suggestion with an outlier argument? Learn to include the outliers in your thesis statement. When you begin by acknowledging the rare exceptions, you make room for the Guardians to calm down and begin listening.

Address the exceptions and you can dismiss them. Address and dismiss.

In the minds of highly organized people, your idea will seem incomplete and not-yet-ready when there is no plan for dealing with exceptions.

When you leave out the exceptions, you’re leaving out too much.

You must do more than explain why your idea will work.
You must explain where and when it won’t work.

But when you have acknowledged that you are aware of the loopholes, compress your core concept into the fewest possible words.

Shorter hits harder.

Two hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do,” and two hundred years before him, William Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Jefferson and Shakespeare knew that exformation*  is a wonderful tool for holding the attention of readers, listeners and viewers. Exformation makes use of what is already known to the audience, or can easily be figured out through context.

Information is what you include.
Exformation is what you exclude.

When Victor Hugo wrote his publisher to ask how his most recent book, Les Miserables, was being received by the public, Hugo simply wrote “?”, to which his publisher replied “!”, to indicate the book was selling well. This exchange would have no meaning to a third party because the power of exformation depends upon prior knowledge that each participant brings to the party.

Do you know what your audience brings to the party?

If you tell them what they already know, you bore them. Or worse, you insult them by assuming them to be ignorant. But if you assume they know things they don’t know, you fail to connect with them. You waste their time. You are irrelevant.

In public speaking, when you suspect your audience might be familiar with some of the ideas in your presentation, it is important that you acknowledge that fact. Consider saying, “I realize some people in this room probably know more than I do about today’s topic, but I don’t want to assume everyone is familiar with all the ideas.” This is when you must raise your hand in the air as you sweep the audience with your eyes and say, “Do I have your permission to quickly explain some of the things you already know, just so we don’t leave anyone behind? Would it be okay if I did that?” Leave your own hand in the air as you scan the audience. Look for agreement. You might even have to repeat the question while keeping your hand upraised.

When you have seen enough people raise their hands, be sure to smile and say, “Thank you,” as you lower your own.

Do this and you will connect with a high percentage of the room.

They will be on your side and in your corner before you even begin your talk.

Leave out this important step and you’ve left out way too much.

Roy H. Williams

* Tor Nørretranders coined the term exformation in 1998 to refer to explicitly discarded information.