A Pain in the Ass: What Teachers and Speakers could learn from Colonoscopy

A couple of days ago, James Pawelski, the MAPP´s director, sent us a comprehensive reading list. It also contains Authentic Happiness, one of Martin Seligman´s earlier popular science books on Positive Psychology. Right at the beginning, Seligman describes an experiment that was carried out by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and colleagues.

Before I go into detail: Since you can read this text, I assume you went to school for a couple of years. Consequently, you´ve experienced being taught by a lot of different teachers – with their teaching skills representing a kind of bell curve: most were more or less o.k., a few were superduper, and some were the proverbial pain in the ass. Basically, it´s the same with (keynote) speakers. I attend a lot of conferences and conventions. Once again, most speakers are okish, a few rock, and some, unfortunately, just waste your time.

Now obviously, not everybody can be a master of rhetoric like, e.g., Barack Obama. But even if – for whatever reason – you suck big time by objective criteria, you can still manage to make a lasting, somewhat positive impression on your audience by adhering to a simple rule:

Save the best for last!

Try to give a first-class conclusion! Thanks to the so called recency effect, most people will tend to forget your overall performance. Instead, their evaluation will be by and large based on the final minutes of your performance.

For scientific proof, let´s go back to Kahneman – and a real pain in the ass. For a study, he and his colleagues surveyed several hundred people that had to undergo a colonoscopy. By random assignment, half the patients had a minute added to the end of their procedure during which the tip of the colonoscope remained in the rectum – but without moving, which is considerably less painful than any movement. The results in a nutshell: even though they experienced more pain all in all, patients who underwent the prolonged procedure rated the entire experience as significantly less unpleasant. Additionally, rates of returning for a repeat colonoscopy were slightly higher.

Thank God, speaking skills can be improved easily – beyond just giving a nice conclusion. For inspiration, you might want check out this blog post listing 15 TED Talks on happiness, motivation, and more.

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