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May 12, 2023  |  Edition #5
Think Fast Talk Smart The Newsletter

Welcome to the fifth Think Fast Talk Smart newsletter. Thank you for your continued support!

Topics covered in this newsletter:

We often find ourselves in situations where we need to explain something that is complex and not readily understood by our audience. Perhaps our content is technical, financial, and scientific. Rather than dumb it down, I recommend that we work to make it accessible.

To me, accessible content has four main characteristics

  • Relevant and meaningful to your audience
  • Concise and not too detailed
  • Chunked or revealed in a layered way
  • Linked to other ideas your audience already understands

These four characteristics can lead to very practical questions you can ask yourself as you craft complex content to be accessible:

  • Relevance: Why is knowing this information important to my audience?
  • Concision: What are the critical few things that must be understood?
  • Prioritization: What is the best order to scaffold/share the information
  • Connection: What ideas/concepts does my audience already know that I can use to help them understand this new point?

Podcast Episode

Listen in as Matt chats with Lauren Weinstein about ways to make your content more compelling and accessible. You’ll learn useful techniques while listening to memorable examples.

Explore & Learn

You can rely on these six techniques to make your complex material accessible.

6 tools to explain complex concepts

Hit the Mark: Make Complex Ideas Understandable (from a GSB Insights article Matt wrote)

Think back to the last time you had that “what the...?” moment when you were listening to someone explain concepts that were highly technical, detailed, or nuanced. You most likely experienced confusion, stupidity, or even anger. We have all been there. Conveying complex information in a clear, concise manner is a huge challenge for communicators of all stripes — scientists, technologists, business professionals, etc. In order to make your complex information understandable for your audience, you first need to address some bad habits that get in the way.

When it comes to communicating, we tend to fall victim to two tendencies: We suffer from the “curse of knowledge,” and we explain things in ways that work best for us, not our audience.

The curse of knowledge (a term I first encountered in Dan and Chip Heath’s great book Made to Stick) simply means we know too much about our topic. Therefore, we make assumptions about our audience’s knowledge and take shortcuts in our explanations or use jargon. Second, we tend to relay concepts to others in the manner we are most comfortable receiving information. This is to say that if we rely on data and detail to learn, we naturally tend to provide data and detail when we explain. These two communication habits serve to make it more difficult for our audiences to understand and learn from us.

Taking an audience-centric approach to your communication serves as the antidote to these two tendencies. Rather than start drafting your presentation, email, or meeting agenda by asking, “What do I want to say?” start by asking, “What does my audience need to hear?” In order to answer this, you must first think about what your audience knows and how they go about knowing. This reflection helps you to include information that you might have left out as well as to consider using different ways of explaining, such as stories, images, etc.

From your audience’s perspective, you need to consider ways to make your complex material more accessible. Below are six tools you can use to help your audience understand your complex concepts: Diagram, deconstruct, compare, picture, backward map, chunk.

Recipe Card from Sara Singer

Recipe card from Sara Singer
Copyright © 2023 Matt Abrahams, All rights reserved.

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