The art of explaining properly

You've probably had the same experience: you're talking to someone and they tell you something about a topic they're very interested in or know a lot about - you follow them spellbound. Then at some point you realize that you have lost the thread.

By Marie-Luise Vielhaber

When that happens, you probably feel bad - like you're not smart enough to understand what the person is saying. Maybe you've been on the other side of this before: you were explaining a complex topic and you could tell the exact moment your listener got off. This situation is not only uncomfortable, but especially discouraging when what you're saying might actually be interesting to your listener. If you are the speaker, there are some things you can do to make sure this doesn't happen again. 

The following video serves as an introduction to the topic of this blog article - a short parade examples of a Ted Talk on how to explain a complex topic in a quick and understandable way:

Some tips on how to come across just as compact and understandable the next time you explain something:

1. Start at the right place

Everyone thinks with a different educational background or level of knowledge and it is our job to explain information in a language that our audience understands. Therefore, always be aware of the audience you are speaking to. Rather assume that your counterpart knows less and catch with simple topics as an introduction.

2. Don't get lost in too much detail

Most of us love to learn - however, we can only absorb a certain amount of information from one time. Avoid overloading people with too much knowledge at once. It's better to explain three things that someone will understand than to overwhelm your counterpart with a load of information. Suppose you're at an art museum with someone you know: you see a painting you love and one you like from university, but you see that your acquaintance doesn't quite know what to make of it. You may feel tempted to explain what you know about this work, to tell about the artist's life and career, the materials and techniques. You will quickly realize that your acquaintance will not follow you for long. Instead, try to explain the big picture rather than starting with the details - this will support your counterpart's own thought process.

3. Focus on clarity instead of accuracy

When we talk about a subject we are very knowledgeable about, we tend to want to get everything 'right' from the outset. Sometimes, however, emphasizing the facts can come at the expense of understanding. It's better to come up with a simpler explanation that may not be technically correct, but explains the topic compactly. Try to establish the basic understanding first. If your counterpart wants to know more, you can build on this knowledge and complete it. 

4. Explain why you find your topic so exciting

'If you take the time to explain something to someone, there's probably a reason why you're doing it - either you think it's very important or very interesting,' Wallimann says in the YouTube video above. He adds that if the latter is the case, 'the more you can communicate that to someone, the more likely they are to remember it and get value out of it.' So ask yourself, 'Why do I think this topic is so exciting?' The more you can communicate your excitement to others, the more likely it is that your counterpart will feel the same way. One way to do this is to give examples of how the topic is relevant to your life, bringing it to life. To find out the best way to explain your topic, go ahead and try it out! Don't get discouraged when sharing your knowledge. Remember, learning is not limited to understanding a topic, but also understanding what those around you already know and how you can share your knowledge with them in an understandable way.

Now that you've learned the right strategy for explaining, try it out immediately on the Zesavi web application and wow colleagues with your knowledge!