What do they know already?

Some concepts may appear self evident to you. However, the audience may not understand the concept or take a different view.

The statement that decisions should be based upon evidence appears to be a self-evident no-brainer. The concept of “evidence” to a specialist in evidence based medicine brings with it assumptions about the type of evidence and its value in terms of the hierarchy of evidence. However, a family doctor may well bring together a wide range of factors e.g. knowledge of the patient, their family history, experience, judgement, very few of which would be classified as “evidence” in the narrow specialised terminology of the evidence-based specialist.


Similarly, you need to share a common vocabulary to communicate. If they don’t understand the words you use, they will not understand what you are trying to tell them. However, there is a worse scenario, where you use words that they recognise but attribute a different meaning to the words than you intended. This most often happens when you use abbreviations or acronyms, but can also occur with full words.

My favourite is AI, which usually means “artificial intelligence” to the IT community, but “artificial insemination” to the medical or veterinary community. Other examples include GPs which will mean “general practitioners” to the medical community, but “Geographical Positioning Systems” to the IT community. Case of the letters may be key here, but in a verbal presentation or under the influence of computerised auto-correction facilities, such cues may be lost.


Even the abbreviation used for Information Technology (IT) can be context dependent.The UK NHS has consistently adopted IM&T as its abbreviation, standing for Information Management and Technology.
In education, ICT has been commonly adopted to refer to Information and Communications Technology.
Each of these alternative abbreviations has been adopted for sensible and laudable reasons, but the end result can be confusion, if understanding is not shared

Think about the last time you listened to a talk. Consider your level of prior knowledge. For the purposes of that talk:

  • Were you a novice, an expert or something in between?
  • Did the speaker use language that you didn’t understand?
  • Did the speaker use abbreviations or acronyms with which you were unfamiliar?
  • Did the speaker spend a lot of time explaining things you already knew?
  • So, did the speaker get your level of prior knowledge about right?