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Simplifying complex message – Part 2

Revisiting the scenario from last week: Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was attempting to explain how mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus. The long, technical, response from the doctor sounded just like that: extremely technical as if he was presenting to a panel of medical students. If the show’s host had not forced him to break down his explanation, the audience would have been lost and tuned out within the first 10 seconds. This all boils down to two points: Know your audience and present “what is in it for them” upfront.

If you are the subject matter expert on a complex topic, your knowledge on that topic is appreciated. But, any time you are speaking to an audience outside of your peer group, it should never be assumed that the audience fully understands all of the terminology and insider acronyms that you would use with your colleagues. You want to present the information in a way that is relatable and relevant to your audience. In the case of the medical scientist explaining the transmission of the Zika virus to thousands of people across the U.S. on national radio, it would be safe to assume that the majority of the listeners had little knowledge on this topic. The solution: Keep it simple.

The best way to explain complex messages to a broad audience is to use relatable, everyday examples and analogies that the audience is familiar with. And, use simple language. Lose the acronyms and jargon. The audience already knows you are smart, this is not the time to impress them with your extensive vocabulary. This is the age of very short attention spans. You must capture the attention of your audience quickly, so get to the “what’s in it for them” information as soon as you can. That is why they are listening to you; they want to quickly know, from an expert, how your topic will impact their lives.

Next week I’ll discuss an approach on how to break things into essential concepts and how to communicate them efficiently during a media interview.

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