Ever hear an expert talk, and feel as though they’re speaking an alien language? They’ll talk about figures and statistics, use words and phrases you’ve never heard of, and leave you utterly confused and questioning whether it was worth listening to.

It’s easy to forget that some techniques and concepts are confusing to others when you’re knee deep in them every day. Your colleagues understand you, so it’s easy to get your message across using buzzwords and acronyms. You can dive right in, and your peers know where you’re at.

But when you’re talking to a customer or trying to educate a more junior audience, you may have to explain technical concepts to people who aren’t very technical. By explaining these concepts well, you’ll not only save time, but also increase customer success.

Here are some tips on how you can explain a super technical concept to anyone.

Practice by Writing it Down

“It’s easy to spew out a bunch of information when speaking, but when you’re writing you have to be deliberate.”

According to David McCullough, there’s no difference between writing and thinking. “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” he famously said in an interview with NEH chairman Bruce Cole.

 

It’s easy to spew out a bunch of information when speaking, but when you’re writing you have to be deliberate. The process of writing out a concept will force you to explain it, even if you’re only explaining it to a piece of paper.

 

Take a few common questions and write out answers. For example, if you work in customer support and customers constantly ask how they can sign up for your product, try writing out instructions. Not only will this help you solidify the process in your mind, but you can actually use what you’ve written in future conversations, especially if you’re communicating over the phone or by email.

Go Step by Step

If someone asked you to give instructions on how to make a sandwich, where would you begin? You might tell them to grab a couple of slices of bread and slab on some mayonaise.

 

But is grabbing a couple of slices of bread actually the first step?. Before grabbing the bread, the person needs to go to the local grocery store and select a loaf. Before slabbing on the condiments, they need to make sure they have them in the kitchen.

 

Often times, when we’re very familiar with a process, we dive in right in the middle of things. We start at the very beginning with the first step. When you’re explaining a process to someone, take it step by step, outlining how one thing leads to another. At each step, check in to make sure they understand where you are.

Amp up Your Listening Skills

We all think that we listen to others, but are we actually good at it? Do we really hear what they have to say, or do we make assumptions about what they think and feel? Psychologists everywhere swear that listening skills are one of the most important things to have.

“If you’re not listening when you’re explaining a technical concept, you’re unlikely to get your message across.”


According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., in an
article for Psychology Today, listening and speaking are keys to being an effective communicator. Whitbourne says that most people focus more on speaking than they do on listening, and that poor listeners are not only perceived as rude, but miss out on essential information.


If you’re not listening when you’re explaining a technical concept, you’re unlikely to get your message across. Have you stopped to identify exactly where your audience is struggling? Make sure you understand their particular issue before trying to explain.

Use Visuals

Remember how many visuals were in your high school biology textbook? Many concepts are better explained through visuals. It’s nice to have a conversation off the phone, but often visuals that map out a process or explain a process can make it a lot easier to explain a technical concept.

 

Explaining technical concepts via visuals involves having the right tools on hand. Perhaps you need to create graphics, use screen-sharing software, or record a video that spells things out. Visuals can help your audience understand what you’re saying, and recall it later on.

Final Thoughts: Dumb it Down and Save Time

A concept may be super technical, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard to explain. If you write down explanations, work step by step, improve your listening skills, and use visuals, you’ll be able to get your messages across, saving you time and improving productivity.

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Emma Siemasko

Emma Siemasko is a content marketing strategist and freelance writer at Stories by Emma, her own consultancy. Emma has worked as both a content marketing specialist at a top tier tech company and as a creative writer at an agency, and is intent on providing the world with the best insights on productivity.
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