A hospital? What is it?
Watching that scene from Airplane, it’s pretty clear to most folks that Elaine knows what a hospital is. When she asks, What is it? she means something like What’s the matter with the woman who needs to go to the hospital? Dr. Rumack assumes What is it? refers to what a hospital is… but of course she knows! That’s what makes this scene funny.
But generally, how can you be sure of what your audience knows and doesn’t know? This exchange between Rumack and Elaine is a funny example of when someone assumes another person doesn’t have knowledge about something they clearly do.
So when you’re having a conversation, just how do you figure out how much detail to go into? You might explain too much, like Dr. Rumack, and give information that your audience already knows. Or you might not explain enough and talk over their head.
Self-advocate Kirsten Lindsmith has a good post about the impact of this dilemma on her social interactions.
If I don’t stop to explain, I inevitably say something that my audience doesn’t understand, and I lose their interest, or worse, seem rude. But when I over-explain, I come off as annoying and condescending!
Balance Explain & Skim
It’s important to explain your ideas to people who may not know—they don’t have all the same knowledge that you do.
Yet it’s also important to not go into too much detail—you can’t explain every single detail.
How do you do both? Strike a balance!