The “Curse” That Will Seriously Hurt Your Presentation

blog title, curse of knowledge Bias

Have you ever been in a situation where you were very excited about something? Then, you try to explain it and the other side`s eyes just glaze over. It goes something like this:


I saw something on the news mentioning MMT. What is it?


 It is a macroeconomic theory that describes the practical uses of fiat currency in a public monopoly from an issuing authority. …blah, blah, blah (more technobabble)


Sorry, I have an important meeting coming up. See you later.

What just happened here is “the curse of knowledge!” It`s something that happens to college professors, salesmen, and probably just about every engineer who ever did a presentation. describes it as “Once you understand something you presume it to be obvious to everyone.”

What this leads to is you skipping a lot things and using jargon and technobabble. After all, it is so easy for you to understand. It is so freaking obvious like the air that we breath. Only a complete idiot could not understand this. Or so you feel.

But the other side are the confused and uninterested. Most people are not idiots. They are just not as informed or interested in the subject as you are.

All of this can be a bad thing. Especially if you are trying to sell an idea or a product, it can be very bad financially. As was once said:

A confused mind always says no.

Russel Brunson

And that particular no is something that you could have easily avoided. There are other “Nos” like, “I don`t have the money.” or “I don`t have the time.” or even “I need to do more research.” Those need to be handled separately. But confusion should be reduced as much as possible.

So, let`s look at why the problem occurs.

How Does The “Curse of Knowledge” Occur In The First Place?


If I were to ask you how to ride a bicycle could you explain it? I’m guessing that you couldn’t. I know I can’t. When we are kids we get on the bicycle. We fall down a lot. Eventually, we learn how to balance and pedal so that we go where we want to go.

All of the commands to our various muscles become so automatic that we don`t even think about it. The same goes for driving a car. It becomes so natural there is no thinking involved. This can also happen with knowledge as well.

Our brains use about 20% of the body`s energy. We are wired to conserve energy as much as possible. This can cause us not to think about things too much because thinking requires energy. Experts tend to have basic information and go through the same logic paths over and over again. It becomes obvious to them because they thought of it so many times.

But for a first-timer, everything is new. It is not obvious what the conclusion is or how to even get there. The problem for the expert is to rediscover the beginner’s mindset and a beginner’s level of knowledge.

Connect It To What They Know

Let’s go back to the conversation at the beginning.


 MMT is a macroeconomic theory that describes the practical uses of fiat currency in a public monopoly from an issuing authority. …blah, blah, blah (more technobabble)

If you were talking to a person who just follows the news on TV that person may have heard the word “macroeconomics.” But I can almost guarantee you that most could not tell you what it actually means. The same goes for “fiat.”

Before you even open your mouth, you need to consider if the other person understands the words you want to use.

In the above case, you could simply say “MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) is an economic theory.” and stop there. You don`t need to add macro as that really doesn’t add understanding for most people. Would it really make a difference to say that MMT is a macroeconomic theory instead of a microeconomic theory? In the scheme of things probably not. I’d say the average person would be hard-pressed to explain the difference.

At this point, the listener knows that MMT makes some statements about the economy. But most are not economists, and I suspect most could not mention more than one economic theory.

Next we go to the word “fiat.” Fiat is just another word for an order by an authority. But what does fiat currency means? It just the paper money we have today. In fact to properly explain what fiat currency is you would have to explain the history of money and the gold standard. That may take awhile.

If you said MMT is an economic theory about money, the natural response would be “Aren’t all economic theories about money?” They would be right about that. So, just simplifying the words to make it easier to understand doesn’t always work.

State the Essence

Image by Juraj Varga 

Albert Einstein once said:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Albert Einstein

Einstien was talking about simplifying concepts and not words. This is important, but there is a problem. The problem is many experts do not know where to draw that line. After all, it seems so simple and obvious in the first place. So, you need to get at the essence.

But, many experts hate doing this. Because you have to ignore the nuances. Many experts are experts because they understand all the tiny details, the exceptions, etc. They also don’t like it when people misunderstand something because of a generalization.

You could say that MMT says that only governments can print lots of money and run large deficits without significant economic consequences up to a point. This leaves out a lot of details. It also smacks against what most people feel is common sense. But, we are talking about explaining not convincing.

But leaving it at that would probably not foster understanding. People would understand the words, but not how it supposed to work. That is when you need to use another technique.

“It’s Kind Of Like …” Anecdotes and Metaphors

Photo by Nong Vang 

In Loserthink Scott Adams makes a point that stories and metaphors are not good for making logical arguments. Stories and metaphors do not equal solid evidence. On the other hand, they are good for explaining things.

Two ways of quickly explaining is to say “It’s kind of like …” and “We are the XX of YY.” You may have heard many companies say they are the Uber of whatever. At least in the US, most people can imagine what Uber is. From there it is fairly easy to imagine a version of that in a different market.

Interestingly Uber itself is not popular in Japan, but Uber Eats is. So, sometime your have to explain that Uber is the Uber Eats of taxis to local Japanese. In any case, you have to adjust the example you use based on who you are talking to.

What`s a familiar image?

When you start explaining more complicated topics like Ketogenic diets or MMT, then you have to get more creative. The average person doesn’t know what a Ketone is and doesn’t care. No amount of passionate technobabble is going to help.

You could say it is a low-carb diet. But then the question becomes “And that means?” You could say “This diet produces Ketones, which are like having a bunch of motivational speakers running through your body giving you energy.”

Moving back to MMT(Modern Monetary Theory). MMT is like saying the government is like the bank and a player in Monopoly. It can print as much as it want and collect rent (i.e. taxes). Most people have played Monopoly and get the visualization here. There still is the practical reality inflation. But, in Monopoly if you add a bunch of money to the players no one is hurt.

There is a lot more nuanced detail that is missing here, but you get the idea of using metaphors to explain a concept. Using metaphors only takes an active imagination. It’s better to try practicing using a bunch of different metaphors with different people. Eventually you will find one or two that actually work well.


Just about everyone is faced with the “curse of knowledge.” There are so many things that we understand (or sometimes think we understand) that are so obvious. The reality is that what is obvious to us will not be obvious to other people. To better explain and also persuade other people about our ideas we need to understand this “curse” and work around it.

One way is to use simple language. Particularly language that the audience uses. If you can clearly explain the essence of an idea all much the better. Another way is using anecdotes, stories, and metaphors. These make it much easier for our brains to visualize and comprehend. So, try using these techniques and undo the “curse of knowledge.”

If you need more help getting around the “curse of knowledge” please let me know. I help people effectively use logic, psychology, and rhetoric to build powerful presentations. A good presentation can make or break a business. Just contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or the contact form here, if you need help.

Matthew Ownby

Previously worked at NASA, Cisco Japan, and other large IT Corporation. Spent more than 15 years training businessmen and women to be better presenters. Good enough at Japanese help native Japanese speakers win speaking contests. Was fortunate enough to give a TEDx Talk in Kyoto also in Japanese ;). Also aims to build the toughest communication contest ever. That will not only include being good at business presentation skills, but debate, meeting facilitation, negotiation, coaching, and more. Also runs an online communication dojo where the focus is on practical skill application not listening to a sage on a stage.

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