Explaining a complicated concept is an art form. It’s easy enough when you’re faced with like minded peers but when you go beyond that cosy world, things can quickly go awry.
There are five basic rules you need to follow. Use these and you’ll usually communicate your intricate idea easily:
- assume no prior knowledge
- don’t patronise
- entertain with analogies
- distil, condense
You have to assume no prior knowledge of the subject you’re discussing. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours elaborating the basics. Most complex concepts can be communicated using simple analogies to everyday things in the real world.
There’s a very delicate line between patronising your audience with explanations that are pitched too simply and diving too quickly into complexities that some won’t understand. Too complex too soon and you’ve lost them. No one wants to communicate with an audience and lose half of them along the way.
Using analogies, especially novel ones, allows you to explain to those who don’t understand the basics whilst still entertaining those that do. King Solomon was supposedly the wisest man in the ancient world. That’s because he knew every fable and parable back to front. So, faced with any complex conundrum put to him by his subjects, he could call up an entertaining story to put forwards his point of view.
It’s always better to keep your initial descriptions simple and allow complex technicalities to come out through questioning. If your audience thinks there’s something missing or would like to delve into intricacies, they will ask.
When you’ve drawn up your explanation, make sure you test it on two very different people: Find someone who knows your subject area reasonably well and someone who has little idea of it. Listen to their feedback, particularly the person with little expertise.