3 principles for communicating complexity

Executive Speaking
Executive Speaking

Anett Grant has 40 years of coaching top executives, leaders, and emerging leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as countless midmarket and small businesses from all over the world.

“It’s all Greek to me.”

Do you see those glazed expressions in meeting after meeting?

Communicating complexity in today’s business world is certainly a significant challenge.

But by keeping these three principles in mind, you’ll start speaking with real clarity and real impact — and get nods of agreement, not wide-eyed stares of confusion.

1. Stay organized

When it comes to complexity, organization is paramount. You need to give your listeners a predictable pattern to help them anticipate where your presentation is heading. This means that your explanations and analyses must follow the same format for each unit of material.

For example, let’s say you are explaining the differences between driving in the United States and driving in the United Kingdom. You would discuss difference A (side of the road), how it works in the U.S., and then how it works in the U.K. Then, you would discuss difference B (intersections), how it works in the U.S., and then how it works in the U.K. And so on.

The point is you keep the pattern exactly the same, so that even if listeners don’t understand everything, they at least can predict where you are going.

2. Avoid jargon

If you want to maximize audience comprehension, you need to avoid jargon as much as possible.

For example, if you are a financial executive who is used to referring to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as “SARBOX,” think about whether your audience would understand that abbreviation, or if they even know what Sarbanes-Oxley is (legislation passed in 2002 that expanded financial reporting requirements).

Speak like you’re talking to a friend who is unfamiliar with your work, and you’ll naturally use rhythm, gestures, and storytelling to engage your audience. This is especially important when speaking to a global audience. If they get stuck on mentally translating a particular word, they may lose their train of thought and stop following your points.

3. Turn unfamiliar processes into familiar images

Using imagery is a terrific way to ensure your messages are retained. In fact, using images and analogies is sometimes the only way certain processes can be explained.

One of the most complicated industries I’ve worked with is biotech — not only are the concepts complex, the vocabulary is very particular. One terrific example of using imagery to explain complexity comes from an article on antibiotic resistance in a recent issue of “The Economist” — “Bacteria keep some of their genes on little loops of DNA called plastids that can be swapped quite easily; think of them as programs on USB sticks.” By using imagery, the writer made a scientific concept understandable to the average reader.

So remember: Stay organized, be conversational, and use imagery. When you are able to effectively communicate complexity, not only will you increase retention and engagement — you’ll make your audience feel smart. And the smarter they feel, the smarter they’ll think you are!

Executive Speaking
Executive Speaking

Anett Grant has 40 years of coaching top executives, leaders, and emerging leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as countless midmarket and small businesses from all over the world.

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