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Simplifying complex messages

Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was being interviewed on the Zika virus. The question was, How do mosquitoes transmit this virus? The three minute response from the doctor sounded like he was reading a PhD theses on the molecular biology of infectious diseases. The show’s host kept saying, “So, in simple terms, how would you explain this to our audience who aren’t scientist?”

This is a common scenario and often a huge challenge for subject matter experts speaking to reporters on complex topics. Whether explaining technology, astrophysics, medical breakthroughs, or other intricate processes, most experts feel they must explain every step of a process in order for everyone to “get it.” And, naturally, they lapse into using insider acronyms, words, and phrases that leave listeners looking like a deer in headlights.

When acting as a spokesperson or subject matter expert, it is important to remember your primary responsibility is to clarify and explain the topic. A media interview, broadcast or print, is not the time to break out the academic, engineering, scientific or technical vocabulary. This is the time to keep things simple and explain basic concepts.

But, how? When you are so immersed in a topic/subject/product/technology, it’s easy to skip the foundational elements, and jump right into the details. While you may think you will sound really smart and knowledgeable, you are  most likely confusing the heck out of the reporter and the audience – neither of which is ever a good thing! Over the next three weeks I’ll share a few quick, but highly effective, tips that will help you  simplify complex and multifaceted topics and specific key points: Here are today’s tips:

  1. Support statements with simple facts, charts, or visuals that are relatable to the general public.
  2. Use analogies and metaphors. Using comparisons to something that people do, see, or experience everyday  will help with comprehension.
  3. Tell a story. Storytelling that relates to the topic helps keep your audience engaged when the topic is technical and dry.

Next week I’ll share three more techniques that help provide clarity and eliminate confusion when the topic is complex.

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