Amplify the Signal, Minimize the Noise

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I studied computer engineering in college, but I’ve learned that some of the critical principles I learned way back then apply to far more than engineering. I was reminded of this by a tweet from Nancy Duarte author of the wonderful book Resonate. I’ll talk more about the book later, but first I want to share the engineering tie-in to one of her recent tweets.

Tweet by @nancyduarte

When engineers talk about communication or networking (as I do in Learning Tree’s Introduction to Networking), they are talking about sending analog or digital information from one place to another. The meaning of ‘communication’ is similar to what we use when we talk of communicating between people, but it is far more restricted; in fact, some would say it is more about ‘transmission’ of information than ‘communication’, per se. At any rate, one of the aspects of that technical meaning has to do with signal quality – it’s called the signal-to-noise ratio. That is, there is always some noise associated with each transmission and the more signal there is compared to the noise, the easier it is to send the information. We discuss this early in the Introduction to Networking course.

Consider talking to a friend at a crowded party or in a busy rail station. You often need to come close to shouting just to talk to the person next to you! A normal “inside” voice just wouldn’t do: your friend couldn’t hear you above all the other noise. In other words, if you spoke quietly, the signal to noise ratio would be so low that the signal (your voice) would be lost amidst the noise (the sound of the crowd). This not only applies to data transmission, but also to any message you are trying to communicate to others, particularly in the case of a presentation. In Resonate Duarte says,

“Communication has the following parts: sender, transmission, reception, receiver, and noise. The message can become distorted at any step of this process. Your top priority is to ensure that the message-carrying signal is free from as much noise or interference as possible.”

She goes on to detail specific types of noise one encounters in delivering presentations,

“There are four main types of noise that can interfere with your signal: credibility, semantic, experiential, and bias noise.”

She then addresses those types of noise and how to minimize them when you present. I’ve found that the concepts she explains apply not only to traditional presentations such as classes or speeches, but to writing and personal communication.

Resonate is a wonderful book and the tweets of @nancyduarte are enlightening as well. I especially appreciate being reminded of the ideas from Resonate.

Use the comments below to let us know 1) how you help reuse the noise in your presentations, and 2) any other comments you have about Nancy Duarte or Resonate.

To your better communication,
John McDermott

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