Do you read the terms and conditions of warranty before you check the I AGREE box in any formal document? Whether it is an update on your phone or the purchase of a new policy? I’m pretty sure almost all of you shook your head. And I am guessing a big reason for it was the super tiny font that makes even the thought of reading it loathsome. As if that wasn’t enough, we have jargon liberally sprinkled all over such documents that we’d rather check the box and be done with it!
But extrication is not as easy in other areas of our lives. We need to understand investments and taxes, monthly/quarterly reports of our team’s performance, make decisions on the budgets to allocate, make sense of graphs that swim in front of our eyes at every presentation. And no one’s really making life any easier by customising information to easy comprehension. In this post, let’s see why it is important to simplify complex ideas and look at several ways to do it.
Why simplify ideas?
Beat the curse of knowledge: If we’ve been at it for quite some time now, it becomes hard for us to come down to the level of the audience who may not be experts in the same field.
Audience connect: If you speak a language that your audience doesn’t understand, the whole effort is futile
Comprehension: If you want your listeners to understand what you are talking about and what they need to do at the end of your presentation, it is best to simplify enough for them to understand
Theory is boring – for anyone: You could drone on and on in the greatest detail but that is the least interesting way to get to your audience
So what do we do? How do we make complex ideas simpler, and information more interesting? Here are a few things you can do, some of them quite simple:
1. Beat the curse of knowledge: Look at your material from the point of view of your audience. Will it make sense to them? Do they have the requisite backstory to comprehend what you are going to present? Come down to their level and start with some basic questions. This will help gain perspective on the harder concepts that can piggyback on the simpler ones.
2. Look for the core idea: In their book, Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the importance of simplicity to make ideas stick and be memorable. Ask yourself – what is that one thing you want your listeners to remember? (preferably, stick to three big ideas per presentation) And ensure that everything you say or do reinforcers the key message you want your listeners/readers to take home.
3. Chunk down information: Chunking a term used in NLP to help break down information. If you need to present interconnected ideas/set of activities, break them down. Deal with one at a time and then put them together. For instance, if there are different steps to a particular process, chunk down to the simpler parts and then move through consecutive steps.
4. Use schema: A schema is a mental structure that we use to identify people and situations around us. For instance, when someone says, “She is like a tom boy”, we access the schema of a tom boy in our mind and comprehend the comment accordingly. Borrowing again from Made to Stick, using a description – a pink, tangy fruit with a thick rind is harder to comprehend than saying, imagine a grapefruit. This connects to our existing schema of citrus fruits and makes it instantly simple to understand. Connecting new knowledge to what we already know is indeed a great way to get to your audience.
5. Eliminate jargon: I know some of you think that using jargon is a benchmark of showcasing your expertise. But that is one of the best ways to alienate your audience. Use it when among experts, by all means. But when with lay listeners, keep it simple
6. Analyse your audience: This should be one of the first points while we decide what content should go into our talks or articles. This should be the deciding factor for the level of simplicity you need to aim for.
7. Use visuals: A picture is worth a thousand words, goes the cliche. But it works. Diagrams, graphs, mind maps, video clips – the options are endless. Depending on the venue and the logistics available, you can choose what works best for you, your audience and subject matter.
8. Tell stories: I know some of you are looking at this like I am crazy. But I don’t believe that serious business should be boring. Case studies are great draw parallels too. Appropriate analogies can be great to simplify complex ideas. For instance, analogies between how drones and helicopters are controlled. One can be a reference to the other.
In today’s busy world, we neither have the time nor the patience to wrack our brains on stuff that isn’t clear in the first instance. It is the duty of the writer to make it easy for the readers to comprehend the written work. Similarly, the onus is on the speaker to hold audience attention and simplify information. With a little creativity, you should be able to match the simplicity ideas in the post to your content.