My son Cameron is learning to drive.
Watching him figure out how to learn this skill, one element at a time, is fascinating. He observes closely when I’m driving, and he asks lots of questions.
Recently, I asked him to move a car in our driveway. He got in, adjusted the seat (he’s about six inches taller than I am), and looked around.
“Where’s your parking brake?” he asked.
I showed him, and then he said, “Oh, Mom, your parking brake isn’t engaged!” He teased me about leaving it off, said that his driving instructor had told him to always check the parking brake, and then we moved the car.
A few days later we found ourselves in the car again. Again, Cameron gave me a hard time about the parking brake not being on. At this point I realized that his focus on the parking brake was different from mine.
As an experienced driver, I make the decision to engage it or not almost subconsciously. In my flat driveway, I almost never use it. As a novice driver, Cameron has zeroed in on the brake as an essential highlight of the process. To him, every part of driving seems as important as every other part.
I want Cameron to be thinking about the big parts of driving. Where am I going? Where are the other cars? What are my hands and feet doing? In the overall scheme of things, the parking brake is no big deal.
This disproportionate attention to what, in my mind, is a minor part of driving reminds me of how clients sometimes aren’t sure how to spend their time preparing for a presentation. The “parking brake” in those cases is often a chart they don’t have yet, a data point they’re waiting on, or some other aspect of the content or technology that is presenting an obstacle. Their focus on this minor aspect of their talk distracts them from thinking about the important stuff: how they want to affect the audience, what the key messages of the talk are, and how their body and voice will support that message.
Like the parking brake, the missing chart or data point is definitely going to come into play at some point. I’m not suggesting that you overlook it entirely! But we can redirect our attention to the major aspects of the presentation and keep moving forward.