The art of explanation

Let’s take a trip down memory lane…

Think back to when you were in school. Think of a teacher that had the gift. They knew how to explain things in a way you could understand. They had stories, metaphors, a way of simplifying a concept, of making it relevant to your life. Whatever the technique, they made it look easy.

As a professional, I’m sure you now know that things that look easy usually have a lot of work and preparation. Same goes for explanation. Being able to get into your audience’s shoes and adopt a language that is relatable is probably one of the most challenging brain gymnastics around. After all, it took you years to become an expert in what you do, and now you have to silence the words that bubble up when you explain something and put them through some sort of filter. It’s hard.

Lee Lefever of Common Craft and author of The Art of Explanationtalks about the “curse of knowledge.” Yes you heard right, when it comes to explanation, knowledge can be a hinderance.

First,  it clouds your ability to see things from the perspective of the someone who doesn’t know. What don’t they know? Where do you start? Where exactly does the story have to start. Having this intuitive empathy for your audience is not always a given.

The other way knowledge can curse us is more insidious.  Being knowledgable means respect. Therefore having to”dumbing down” what you know exposes you to judgment.  What if they don’t buy it? What if you look like a fake? Yep, those are the voices that travel in our minds. At least in mine.

So in other words, crafting a nice simple knowledgable explanation can really mess with your head. What’s the antidote you ask? Watch Lefever’s explanation of explanation. He really rocks this topic.  He is a wizard guru when it comes to breaking the curse of knowledge and building inclusive and intelligent explanations.

Because ultimately a good explanation will make you look way more than knowledgable…you will look like a master.