The Curse of Knowledge – Don’t Forget Your Audience

Our friends over at the National Weather Service in Burlington sent us over a weather clip earlier this week and “Triple-Dog-Dared” us to try and re-create it on the air. Check out the video from Valparasio University:



Now clearly its a goof, and the met actually does a really nice job pulling it off. Occasionally I see rookie broadcast meteorologists starting to talk like a NWS discussion on-air, oddly similar to the clip. Its likely a force of habit, spending afternoon in the campus meteorology office preparing the daily forecast, but when you step in front of the chroma-key wall, your vocabulary needs to change a little.


In the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other’s Die, Chip and Dan Heath call it the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. Its when we know more than our audience, and end up losing them in the way we deliver our message. In the beginning we tend to forget who we’re talking to, and that the choice of our vocabulary needs to be relative to the people who are watching us. Its not about talking down to your viewers, but rather explaining complicated concepts in an easy-to-understand manner.


Its important to know your audience, and every market is different. In severe weather markets, where lives are on the line during tornado outbreaks, a higher level of meteorological detail is certainly acceptable and expected. But if I think if you ask the average viewer in the average market, they would have a tough time describing what an occluded front or even the jet stream had to do with the weather. Many news directors outlaw surface maps from weathercasts completely.


So it just takes some gentle reminding and a little conditioning to help new broadcast meteorologists learn a new way to convey their forecasts. The goal is for the viewer to walk away with a clear understanding of your forecast.



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