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If you work in a field that’s hard for laypeople to understand, like science or technology, you’ve probably noticed something: The top expert on a subject isn’t necessarily the best person to ask about that subject. They might know enough about your question to fill books, but if they can’t get that knowledge across, they’re useless to you.

It’s just as frustrating to be on the other side of that conversation, trying to communicate the complex work your company is doing to a journalist or marketer with no background in the subject. Just because you know what you’re talking about doesn’t mean you’re good at getting it across. But even if you’ve never taken a rhetoric class, or if communications isn’t your background, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re explaining things.

  • Take the Twitter test. As Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and nothing confuses an audience more than unnecessary rambling. Break your speech down into individual points, and see if you can communicate each point in 140 characters or less. If you can’t, then you might be trying to get too much across at a time.
  • Understand the narrative. Humans are naturally attracted to stories. If you can turn your topic into a story in which cause flows neatly into effect, your audience will find it easier to grasp. “Our team was having trouble with x, so we tried y, and it turns out that z” is easier to remember than “Our team found that z.”
  • Don’t be afraid of visual aids. There’s no shame in throwing up a PowerPoint or Prezi if you use it properly. Don’t just present your audience with a wall of text for them to read while you speak. Reading and listening both use the language-processing part of the brain, and doing both at the same time will overtax your audience. Putting up a few images provides relief. Even ClipArt or stock images help.
Another idea is to present your idea to a friend who has no background on the subject, someone who is comfortable asking you to better explain something if you aren’t breaking down the topic enough. It’s too easy to assume other people understand the acronyms and jargon that are common in your conversations with colleagues.
Also, ask yourself what are the most important 3-5 things I want someone to understand about this topic? Oftentimes, people only need the high-level synopsis as opposed to the nitty gritty details. Being able to effectively articulate your expertise in a way that even a middle schooler can understand will help you become a go-to expert and resource for the media which will ultimately help establish you as a credible expert and thought leader in your field.
Rhiannon Hendrickson
About the Author: Rhiannon Hendrickson

Rhiannon Hendrickson is the founder and CEO of Orapin Marketing + Public Relations, which helps purpose-driven businesses increase visibility, expand the reach of their message, and become sought-after industry leaders. She has worked with organizations of all sizes across myriad sectors to develop memorable and effective communications programs that generate awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, support for those that are making a meaningful impact.

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