The simple words habit

The more you know about something, the harder it gets to speak about that thing in simple terms, right?

Well, unless you’ve committed to the simple words habit.

The default way when you dig deeper into something is that you adopt the jargon and use domain language to efficiently communicate with other experts in that field (also, it makes you feel a bit proud to finally be able to say “I’m going to superimpose A major on that scale”, doesn’t it?). The terms you use get ever denser meaning. For you and your colleagues, everything feels super clear. For outsiders it becomes ever harder to understand what you mean.

But there’s a different way. As you dig deeper, rather than change your language, you can change your thinking. Rather than restrict yourself to the new language, you can force yourself to express new thoughts in your existing language.

The irony is that this usually leads to an even more profound understanding of your field. Because, let’s be honest: that clarity that we felt when we used the jargon … that’s often just on the surface, isn’t it?

So, the simple words habit actually does two things. It brings us way closer to our audience and it deepens our own understanding so that we can come up with more meaningful results.

What are you currently working on? Can you describe it using simple words?

(PS: My course “Crack the Clarity Code” helps you with this.)

Rule no. 1

Rule no. 1 in communication is brutal:
If they didn’t get, they didn’t get it. End of story.

There really is no point in arguing that you meant it slightly differently and if only they had listened more carefully, they would have easily seen that.

They didn’t.

It’s not their fault.

Clarity is our responsibility. Not their’s.

Which means that clarity is an invaluable ingredient for almost all aspects of business and life. It’s essential if you want to make an impact.

The best use of your time

Clarity takes time. Time to think things through. Time to change perspectives. Time to ask for feedback.

Time that we often lack in our daily business.

Given all the other things that are on our table, clamoring for our attention, it often feels that we just don’t have time to refine our story or to look for simpler ways of explaining our product.

I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I feel that the opposite is true: Investing in simpler language is one of the best uses of our time while settling with hard to understand or plain confusing messages is about the worst use of anyone’s time.

When you aim to speak with clarity, then yes, it will consume some of your time. But on the other hand, it will spare your audience an enormous amount of time – time that they would otherwise need to spend in order to figure out what you mean.

Arguably that’s going to be worth way more than your time invest.

The utility of a blank stare

One of the things that we lack as speakers on a large stage is the blank stare of our audience. Even more so when the large stage is virtual so that you’re looking into a camera.

The blank stare in a 1:1 conversation (or in a meeting) informs us about our blind spots. What are the things that are clear to us but make no sense for our audience?

You can’t reliably find that out alone. You need other people’s help. Alone, in your office, you lack these blank stares, the kind of stares that make you look for simpler ways of explaining your idea.

Practicing in front of a small live audience helps. As do private conversations. Use these as a testing environment for the clarity of your communication. Too many speakers avoid these situation because a blank stare embarasses them.

I think it’s the best thing that can happen to you. It allows you to fix your blind spots.

Look for and embrace the blank stares!

Look how beautiful the moon is

“Daddy, look how beautiful the moon is today.” My daughter expected me to chime in with her cheering.

Only that I couldn’t … because from where I was standing, I couldn’t even see the moon. It was obscured by a building. Luckily, I took a couple of steps to the side. It really was an astonishing view of the moon, an object that we see so often, yet not quite the way my daughter and I saw it on that evening.

Sometimes, to appreciate the beauty of something we need to look from the right perspective. We need to move to a different place.

If you’re wondering why your audience isn’t chiming in with your cheering, could it be that they just can’t see it when looking from their perspective? If so, then no amount of cheering from your side will make them see it. It’s obscured.

You need to show them a way to get to your place.

Clarity ≠ Minimalism

Clarity makes complex things feel simple.

That’s not the same as removing things to make them simpler. Clarity is about making them more accessible.

Often, it actually means adding things … 

… to your story, using examples, metaphors or anecdotes that translate a concept into our audience’s domain so that it’s easier for our audience to get what we mean.

… to your slide deck, bringing it from 1 difficult to decipher slide to 20 easy to understand slides.

… to your process, visualizing what each step is for.

… to your experience, amassing years of working with something.

… and many more.

Clarity feels minimal but it’s often quite the opposite.

8 million

Each year, more than 8 million children die due to poverty (source).

That’s a huge number. But how large is it, really? The human mind has no easy way to “see” that number. For our brain, it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s 8 million or 80 thousand. Both is basically “a lot”.

Things change when we translate the numbers into dimensions we can relate to. 8 million per year means that every 4 seconds a child dies due to poverty.

Basically, during the time it takes you to read this sentence, a child dies due to poverty.

4 seconds is an easy to grasp value. 4 seconds is easy to experience. It has a clear meaning in our everyday life and therefore, it makes the abstract specific. It’s still the same information, but it’s much more tangible – even more so when you support it with a finger snap.

It’s hard to see 8 million children, but it’s easy to imagine one – which is precisely what most of us do when we hear that finger snap. With each finger snap we see a child.

Translating difficult numbers into values that make sense in our everyday life also makes it a lot easier for our audiences to understand what the numbers mean. It makes it a lot easier to relate to the info we’re trying to convey.

Would you like tea or coffee?

A simple decision, isn’t it? Well, you have no idea.

Let’s have some fun with it and pretend we would have to decide in a meeting. Obviously, we’ll need a PowerPoint to discuss the matter, right? Quickly, we arrive at 10 slides highlighting all of the important aspects, like so:

Slide 1: Title slide with presentation title (“Advantages and disadvantages of proceeding with tea vs. coffee”), name of presenter, their department, date, location, at least five logos
Slide 2: Agenda
Slide 3: Sales distribution of tea and coffee during the last 6 quarters, broken down by region. Underneath: comparison with other drinks such as hot chocolate and various juices
Slide 4: Mission statement for the coffee choice, market analysis including target group breakdown
Slide 5: Composition of ingredients (unfortunately, though, the font is so tiny that you can’t read anything) plus certificates from food testing institutes
Slide 6 & 7: The same for tea
Slide 8: Customer satisfaction rating and award for the most creative brand campaign 2021
Slide 9: Classification in the brand range with different flavor additives, variants, sizes and special promotions
Slide 10: Summary
Bonus slide 11: “Thank you for your attention”

All of this followed by an intense discussion to repeat the arguments a couple of times.

All of this without ever asking the question plainly: “Would you prefer tea or coffee?”

I’m positive that quite a number of meeting room presentations fit that description rather well.

The furious entrepreneur

Recently, I met an entrepreneur who was furious at his audience. They just didn’t get him. Although he explained his idea in thorough detail and told them everything there was to say, they just didn’t approve the budget he needed to implement his idea.

He was really mad at them. Some weren’t even paying proper attention, one was typing on their phone.

But of course, the audience is always right. If you didn’t grab their attention, it’s not their fault. If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it.

It just doesn’t matter how good we think our pitch is. It’s always the audience’s call. No one in your audience is obliged to understand, let alone like your idea. It’s your job to explain your idea in a way that gets their attention and resonates.

I asked the furious entrepreneur what he learnt from the experience and whether there’s anything he would do differently the next time.

To which he replied: “No, no! The pitch was brilliant.” He wanted to quickly move on and try it unchanged somewhere else – any change would just lose him time.

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz