You have your....

Oct 22 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Over the past couple of years I've noticed a presentation style creeping into meetings and conferences: people using second person. I don't know if that's a "style" or not, but until 3 or 4 years ago I don't recall anyone giving a presentation in the second person.

The first time I hear this was during a grad student departmental seminar. The student and I were friends and during their practice talk I pointed the second person usage out and we joked about it. During the actual presentation, the student lapsed into second person only a couple of times, correcting themselves on a couple of occasions.

Later I started hearing it in other student talks and finally, to my abject horror, I realized during a talk that I was giving that I slipped into second person while describing a figure. I think I said something to the effect of "In this figure you have your donuts here and pastries here..."

Wasn't I just joking with a student about their odd usage of second person and here I am doing the same thing? What am I doing?

Since then I have seen the same phenomenon growing in prevalence at conferences and the other night even saw it in TV show where someone was giving a presentation. What is going on?

Is there a general shift in the way people are communicating to an audience or was I just wearing second-person-cancellation-headphones for a number of years? Has anyone else noticed this?

6 responses so far

  • chall says:

    hm, interesting. I slip into "you" usage since there is a Swedish word ("man") used as an inpersonal way of talking in a passive voice which is very common. It's an inclusive but not pointing out by saying I I I I I ;)I have a problem knowing if it is I or we and tend to mix them up, since I don't feel comfortable with I although one of the comments before my departmental talk was that I should use I since all the data apart from oe slide was done by me... It might be something like that? We sounds personal and maybe distantsing yourself from the data by talking in second person makes it easier to take criticism? Not by actively choosing it but somewhere they brain picked it up ?

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    Well at least they weren't using 3rd person

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    That drives me bat-shit crazy. I have never seen a presentation given in the third person but I would probably start casting rotten tomatoes if I did.It occurs to me that "You have your..." might be easily circumvented by a more appropriate "you can see that ___, represented on the X axis..." for those who are trying to break the habit.

  • Nat Blair says:

    I remember this was once prevalent in various magazine articles, typically profiles of particular people of different types of careers, etc. I remember seeing it sometime soon after college (gulp, latter half of the 90s).The first couple paragraphs would be in 2nd person. "You're standing at in front of the line, you bounce the ball once...twice...no more. Your eyes go to the hoop, your muscles tense as you prepare to launch the ball..."blah blah blah. I'm with AA, it drives me insane. It just feels so forced and affected.

  • Ms.PhD says:

    I'm with Genomic Repairman. Doesn't bother me so much, I think it's more common in business presentations? What bugs me more is that in some fields it's perfectly normal to personify inanimate objects, but not in mine. Breaking students of this habit can be painful and difficult, since it's how we actually speak in the lab but is considered "unprofessional" in presentations. Sometimes I wish science would loosen up!

  • Candid Engineer says:

    Can't say it bothers me. I find myself writing in the second person on my blog (not purposefully) esp. when I am trying to involve the audience in what I'm saying. I think the usage makes the audience feel like more a part of the seminar. Used constantly, however, it would get really annoying.

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