You’ve made it. This is the final installment of a three-part series on how to explain, and you’re so close to being communication masterminds.
So far, you’ve gotten to know your audience and what they care about, and you’ve simplified your complex message so a beginner can follow along. Now, let’s work on making connections-the juicy associative ties that help your audience say, “Eureka! I’ve got it!” Or if they’re not a 19th century scientist, “Hey, I get it.” Here’s three tips on how to bring everything together.
1. Use Information They Already Know
Just as it’s important to focus on what your audience cares about, it’s also important to base your explanation around information that’s already good and lodged in their brains. Figure out what your audience already knows, and expand on it.
Sometimes this is really easy. For example, if you’re explaining the new version of a product to a current customer, discuss new features and explain anything that’s changed. Your customer has a built-in frame of reference.
Other times, you’ll have to get creative to figure out what existing knowledge you can use to get your point across. In this BBC story, a politics lecturer talks about how he uses reality TV to explain voting systems. Great way to expand upon everyday knowledge to create new understanding.
2. Make Analogies
Analogies are a special kind of “use what they already know.” You can explain your complex topic by talking about it in the terms of a more familiar, everyday topic.
To set up an analogy, first focus on the core part of what you’re trying to explain. Then, think of something from real life that illustrates the same idea. One common analogy is heart = pump. The best analogies draw a mental picture. With the heart/pump analogy, it’s easy to picture water being pushed out of a pump, and then making the switch to picturing blood being pushed out of the heart.
However, you can’t just say, “The heart is like a pump,” and leave to go have lunch.
You have to explain why the familiar topic relates to the new topic you’re trying to explain. Then, if you can, check in to make sure you audience has understood the connection after you’ve finished your analogy.
3. Tell a Story
We’re all familiar with the basic structure of a story. There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there are characters that things happen to, and those things make them learn or change. We’re also really good at listening to stories-it’s almost an innate part of human nature. Use the framework of a story to form your explanation. It will capture your audience’s attention, and it will make it easier for them to follow along.
Treating your explanation like a story also makes it easier for you to make your explanation delightful. The best stories are entertaining and make you feel something, and your explanation should as well. Think of yourself as a storyteller, not a presenter or an email writer, and your focus will automatically be on your audience’s needs rather than your goals.
Don’t be afraid to use humor, surprise and other elements of fun-they’re just as appropriate in a business presentation as in a storybook. You want your audience to be amused and like you, right? Fun gets people to pay attention, and it will make your message more memorable.
You now have all the tools you need to explain in a way that’s easy to understand, memorable, and gives people the information they need to take action. So go forth and explain. I’m expecting emails so eloquent that people will print them out and hang them on the wall, signatures that tell them it’s bad for the environment be damned. Presentations that leave people with calluses on their hands because they’re clapping so hard. Answers that will finally, magically, satisfy your kids’ endless questions and leave you with some glorious peace and quiet. Remember to think about your audience, keep it simple, make connections, and you’ll be an unbeatable explaining machine.