We have all had the experience of reading or hearing something and having no idea what it means, making us either feel stupid or stop paying attention or both. Good communicators use simple language to help others understand their message, especially when communicating complex or technical topics.
Just yesterday I read on my Twitter feed, “In response to today’s coronal mass ejection (CME) from Region 2887 associated with the X1 flare a G2 (moderate) watch is in effect . . .”
What do I do with that information?
Climate change advocates are explaining carbon neutral as, “. . . when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period.”
When was the last time you used anthropogenic in a sentence?
At a conference I heard a speaker say, “Create the environment without conspicuously otherizing people with the difference.”
How many times do I have to repeat that back to myself to figure out what it means?
Here are simplified examples of the above statements that are easier to understand.
- We might see gorgeous lights in the sky called an Arora because of an electrical storm.
- Balancing out the carbon dioxide we put in the air with the carbon dioxide we take out is called carbon neutral.
- Make everyone feel included without pointing out differences.
Keeping our communication simple helps people understand better and it does not offend those who may already have an understanding. Here are the top three tricks for keeping it simple.
Top Three Tricks to Keep it Simple
- Use Everyday Language
Think of explaining something to a recent high school graduate with no job experience. Using words and phrases they would understand is everyday language. We can write out our message and then edit it to reword anything that requires a dictionary or an internet search.
- Avoid Jargon and Acronyms
People outside of a specific industry are totally lost with jargon and acronyms. Take for example the acronym EMT; it can mean ‘emergency medical technician’ or ‘electrical mechanical tubing’ depending on the industry. Both ‘exercise induced asthma’ and ‘environmental impact assessment’ are abbreviated as EIA. Even people within a specific industry need to spend more time figuring out what something means when jargon and acronyms are used.
- Explain with Stories
Stories bring ideas to life. When we share situations where something relevant happened, people are more likely to understand our ideas. When I tried to explain to a friend how my AeroPress was not working, I failed to gain understanding until I told a story of coffee spurting out in all directions as I tried to make my morning caffeine fix.
Wise words taken from a symposium on science communication remind us, “We cannot afford to assume that the public, or even sometimes our colleagues, will understand our science without investing some effort into the manner of its delivery.”
We want to communicate in a way that makes our audience easily understand our ideas, and most definitely not feel stupid. Using the top three tricks of everyday language, no jargon, and story explanations keeps our communication simple and our audiences engaged.