How to Explain Your Idea Simply
I’ve suffered through so many unnecessarily complicated presentations, speakers, films, interviews, talks, articles, PowerPoint decks, conference calls, white papers, websites, case studies, user documents-the list keeps going. The problem is the speaker or author falsely believes that if they use fancy words fabricated by the marketing department combined with and a lot of technical jargon they will sound smarter than the previous guys.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. I love the process of distilling down to simplicity. I preach my passion for simplicity using this phrase, “Can you explain it to me using fifth grade-friendly english?”
As the communicator, I believe that I own the responsibility to absorb complexities and net down nuance differences on behalf of the listener.
Start simple. Go slow. It’s hard to undo confusion.
I find that if we apply this idea for our communication, we can always layer on complexity and details after we first come to alignment on the basics.
Index an idea your listener is already familiar with
Let’s say our company is creating the newest competitor to the TESLA (electric car). Our team has a killer technology invention. Our special-sauce is our flux capacitor (yes like Back to the Future) add-on, carbo-loaded, nitrate booster, electromagnetic dissector that will compound the conversion rate of gigawatts to jiggawats at sixteen hundred particles per second.
I’m not kidding you. This is the kind of jargon people use when what we really mean to say,
“We are creating a new electric car that’s like the TESLA.
Our electric car goes 20 MPH faster and can travel 100 miles farther on the same charge”.
Wouldn’t that be easier to open our presentation with that sentence?
It gives the reader, the listener, the customer, the prospect, an opportunity to index something they are already familiar with e.g TESLA. Here is what our audience can hear from us when we explain our idea like we were talking with a fifth grader.
They are making something new. It's like a TESLA. Their electric car goes faster than a TESLA. Their electric car can travel longer distances without having to stop and recharge as frequently as a TESLA.
Stop worrying about sounding smart
Even though we don’t want people to think that all of our fancy, technical, innovative, sophisticated betterment can be boiled down to something simple. The reality is that our audience often does not care about how our electric car will go faster. They only care that our electric car DOES go faster.
Keep it simple.
Own the burden to communicate simply.
If we can’t explain it simply, we need to invest more time distilling our translation. Once we’ve got that down, then elevate our story telling to a high school level. If that works, try leveling up to a grad student. Finish with a version of our story that is aimed at our expert peers.
PS. I failed at this miserably today.
I had to retrace my steps and go back to the beginning and explain my idea like I was speaking with a fifth grader. It wasn’t because the audience wasn’t bright. It was because I skipped to the complicated stuff too quickly.