The person you sit next to could land you $100,000 – or a really big headache.


The person you sit next to POST

A friend of mine was travelling from Melbourne to Sydney recently and, by the end of her flight, she had sealed a $100,000 deal with a handshake. This was all thanks to the conversation she struck up mid-air with the guy in the seat next to her.

I’ve never been this lucky. In fact, if my recent airplane neighbours are anything to go by, this could explain a lot.

On my most recent flight I sat next to “Bella, Joshua, and Ollie”, whose parents felt it necessary to rotate the seating allocation of their children throughout the flight, in order to give me the pleasure of experiencing each one of their offspring.

The kids were actually fairly well-behaved and I unwittingly came to know the family intimately.

You see, the parents felt the need to educate the kids on every aspect of the experience. When Bella (who looked about seven) pointed to the fight path on screen, her father described – in minute detail – the geography, history and political affiliation of every country in the region.

When Joshua (who seemed about four) played with his iPad, his mother pointed out every colour: “That’s magenta, turquoise, charcoal and lemon”. This was accompanied with a lecture on the fundamentals of how primary colours can be mixed to form all the hues in a colour palette.

As he played his iPad game, I saw there was an animated character traversing a maze in order to score points by finding a series of treasure chests. This resulted in mum giving a running commentary on the concept of “treasure”, starting with its historical roots in ancient times, how it was coveted by pirates, before moving towards the modern idea of wealth. I kid you not.

Meanwhile, I’m convinced Bella, Joshua and Ollie have all developed selective hearing.

When little Ollie (who would be been no more than two) made a noise akin to wonderment when he felt the plane start to descend, Dad then launched into a s-l-o-w and gentle explanation of how planes land, including a complex description of the function of the landing gear.

Hey, I’m no early childhood expert, but I’m fairly sure most of this was lost on Ollie. And by the time Dad began explaining rudders, fins and Mach numbers, the kid was screaming his freaking head off. Dad continued anyway in his s-l-o-w and gentle voice. When Ollie finally stopped screaming, Dad said: “I appreciate that you stopped yelling. Thank you for that.”

Anyhow, full points to the parents who were obviously keen to educate their children because they certainly used the whole eight hours from Sydney to Singapore to do so. The Whole … Eight … Hours … There was always at least one kid awake to whom they could display their vast knowledge of the world.

The approach of the parents reinforced my philosophy of the best way to educate and inform:
(a) Information overload will simply result in confusion
(b) Use language and examples that your audience will understand
(c) Cater to the needs and expectations of your audience – not your ego.

These kids weren’t learning. They were being talked at.

If you need to provide information to your team or ensure that your staff understand a new procedure, don’t just dump information on them and hope that some of it will sink in by osmosis. Instead:

1. Identify the key points that need to be understood;
2. Create a memorable story around them; and
3. Tell it in an engaging way.

I’ll admit: by the time we landed I was going slightly crazy listening to the inane explanations of these parents. My head began to hurt. It was as if the Encyclopaedia Britannica had come to life in the form of two earnest people who didn’t quite realise how annoying they were being to fellow passengers for … did I mention … a whole eight hours?

I realised early on that the chances of me landing $100,000 deal with these airplane neighbours was very low. But you know what? If Wikipedia ever goes bust, at least I know exactly who to call.

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • Sal

    SOmetimes wonder if they were talking to other people on the plane and not the child – trying to be heard by others perhaps? Keep it simple hey! Looks like you had a great trip.

    • valeriekhoo

      I don’t know Sal. But it was making me go bonkers!

  • Kelly Exeter

    OMG. Those parents must have been EXHAUSTED by the end of that flight!! My brain is hurting just reading your post :)

    • valeriekhoo

      I think those parents had trained themselves for marathon-length lecture sessions. It was bizarre!

  • allconsuming

    OH VAL, I’m so sorry. What you have witnessed and experienced was the modern social phenomenon of the ‘hover parent’ – yes, like the helicopter parent defined by Hugh Mackay but c.l.o.s.e.r.

    These are the parents who, when their children are having an absolute blazing meltdown, will quietly try and reason with the child as to why they are being asked to do whatever basic human task is being asked of them. The ones who calmly try to explain to the child why they are asking them to do what they are being asked to do instead of the correct response which is, ‘because I told you to’.

    This is classic parenting error 101 stuff.

    Sadly this type of parent are one in the same as those parents who cry bewilderment and hurt and wail, ‘oh no, my child would NEVER do that’ when their vicious bully of kid has been identified and held accountable for his/her actions.

    Basically parenting small children is on par with owning a dog. They need to a) know who’s boss, b) know key phrases, c) know what is an absolute deal-breaking not-allowed behaviour, d) be fed, watered and housed and e) shown love and affection.

    Everything else is white noise.

    • valeriekhoo

      Kim: It was scary. A whole other world. I may set foot in another plane again.