In order to garner support for any business idea or project, you need people to buy into what you’re doing. You’ll need to explain your idea well. And in order to get buy-in, people must understand what exactly your big idea is all about.
But when an idea is especially complex, this is easier said than done.
The Overlooked ‘Professional Superpower’
Data scientist Jeremy Mahoney calls the ability to explain complex ideas to other people an “overlooked superpower.”
It’s a very appropriate description because, in this day and age, most people are so focused on discovering or understanding big ideas that they don’t spend nearly enough time exploring how to communicate these ideas to others.
“When a concept really clicks, the entire world suddenly seems a little more exciting,” Mahoney writes. “If you know what I’m talking about, you know it’s an awesome feeling. It’s the kind of thing that can totally make your day.”
And when something really clicks, it’s usually because someone else has explained it really well. Whether it’s in a conversation, drawing, video, blog post, or even an infographic, there’s typically a good explainer behind it all.
If you can learn how to explain things well, you’ll never have a shortage of professional opportunities. You’ll always find yourself in high demand.
4 Tips for Explaining Complex Ideas
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be a good explainer. You just have to know how to clearly and succinctly describe complex concepts in a way that resonates with people at a very elementary level. Here are a few tips.
1. Know your audience.
The first rule of explaining things is to know who you’re talking to.
- Who are they?
- What are they interested in?
- What kind of personality do they have?
- Can you discern what sort of background they have?
- What style of language do they use?
- How do they prefer to learn?
- Do they have any existing familiarity with the topic?
- Do they already know, like, or trust you?
You won’t always be able to answer all of these questions, but the more information you can gather ahead of time, the more you can tailor your explanation to them. And if you’re trying to explain something to a large audience – like in a marketing situation – you’ll need to develop rich, detailed customer personas and use those to guide your approach.
2. Simplify to 1-3 things.
Well-intentioned explanations of complex ideas often go to die in the weeds. In other words, you lose people when you try to explain the tiny details of something. In most situations, people don’t care about the dozens of tiny details. They want to know the basics of how something works. Find the one to three big picture concepts and focus on them above all else. (The fewer, the better.)
3. Use an explainer video.
When it comes to explaining a concept to an entire marketplace of people (or even just a large audience), explainer videos can be especially powerful.
You’ve probably seen one of them before. Whether it’s the viral Dollar Shave Club video or one of the thousands of whiteboard videos where illustrations are drawn and erased on the screen, these types of videos are powerful. Best of all, you only have to write the script once and can then share it at scale. (This means the explanation will hit the mark every single time.)
4. Rely on analogies and examples.
Ditch industry jargon and buzzwords. If someone doesn’t understand a concept to begin with, these terms will do nothing but confuse them. Instead, use words and terminology that they already understand. Better yet, rely on analogies and examples to create powerful associative connections between your concept and something they’re already familiar with.
Just think of Forrest Gump sitting on a park bench saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Therein lies the power of analogies. (And if Forrest can do it, so can you!)
Become an Expert Explainer
It’s not the superpower everyone wants to have, but it’s the superpower people need. Being able to explain complex concepts and ideas will consistently give you a seat at the table. It’ll also help your sales, marketing, management, and leadership.
It truly is a powerful, underutilized skill that has the ability to transform your career. Wield it wisely!