How To Make Complex Info Accessible For Your Audience
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” –Albert Einstein
One of the biggest challenges speakers and writers face, especially those who are experts in their field, is how to make complex information accessible and relatable to the audience. Whenever I address this topic with my clients, the immediate push-back I get is “I don’t want to dumb it down.” I expect this reaction, because most of us are not only attached to our work, we’re attached to being experts in our field.
However, making something simple or accessible isn’t making it “dumb,” it’s making the information clear. Presenting information that is dense, jargon-y, overly complicated, or worse, just plain boring, doesn’t do you justice as a presenter, nor does it serve your audience. As in, if you can’t make it simple, then you’re wasting both your time, and your audience’s time. Therefore, here are a few ways you can make complex information accessible to your audience, without “dumbing it down.”
Maximize your visuals
Used correctly, a slide deck can be your biggest ally. Instead of reciting droll statistics, make a colorful chart or graph that illustrates the data. Photographs can add a human element and help elicit empathy from the audience. If you’re explaining a concept, using illustrations can bridge the gap between auditory and visual processing. As long as you’re sticking to the guidelines of making a great slide deck (which you can learn more about here), then moving complicated concepts to the slides is an excellent way to help your audience understand your key point.
Eliminate the jargon
We get it, you’re an educated professional! Now please stop speaking like you’re reading a peer-reviewed academic journal aloud. For example, instead of saying “correlation” or “causation” you can just say “when this happens…”. Instead of referring to the “development sanitation consultant,” you can just refer to them as the “janitor.” When in doubt, ask yourself if there is a simpler or more common way of referring to the person, place, or thing you’re discussing. Even an audience full of academics will be relieved to hear someone speak to them like they’re fellow human beings, as opposed to “fully-conscious interconnected homo sapiens.”
I’m passionate about this topic, because one of the worst things a speaker can do is waste their audience’s time. And because we are so attached to looking good/sounding smart/etc. it’s easy to want to include a full and detailed history of the problem, 126 of the best examples, mountains of data, and every single story related to the topic. Does your audience need this? No. If you want proof, consider that the average TED/TEDx Talk is limited to 15-18 minutes, and all of those speakers manage to explore incredibly complex ideas in a short time frame. You can do it too. To accomplish this, ask yourself throughout the prep period: How does this directly support my key idea? And WHY does my audience need to hear it? If you can’t easily answer these two questions, then chop that piece.
Overall, making your information and concepts accessible to your audience ties back to the core purpose of why you’re giving the presentation in the first place. If the audience doesn’t understand it, have you achieved your goal?