Communicating Complex Content to Any Audience

An approach to communicating complex content to any audience, regardless of their role or experience.

Explaining complex issues and ideas is not always easy, and as I often say when speaking with colleagues and clients, most of the time it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Tailoring content to any audience may not sound like a challenge, but it’s very easy to forget just how experienced you are and how long you’ve been working in your field. Not everyone is going to understand the abbreviations or the terminology that is more common to you and the content you’re communicating.

As a general rule of thumb when communicating complex content, you should:

  • Avoid technical detail wherever possible, and where it must be used, explain it immediately
  • Understand your content and display positive body language
  • Be yourself and don’t hide your personality
  • Make eye contact
  • Use visuals and metaphors, and
  • Structure your content in a clear and easy to understand format. 

What follows is an approach to tackling the challenge outlined above, it’s a group of principles I’ve used for some time and something that’s been successfully embedded into the working practices within the Bid Management team here at risual.

1. Know your content and be precise

Of all the principles outlined, this is by far the most important!

You have to realise that you can’t hide poorly prepared or boring content behind a friendly charismatic delivery and expect it to work, your audience will see straight through you and you’ll lose them. Understand that people can easily get lost in long sentences or explanations and as such, you should be precise and condense each of your points into easily digestible and understandable chunks. Aim for a maximum of 200 characters per point and as you continue to apply these principles, see how you can reduce this further.

Knowing your content will inevitably show in your body language too, being prepared will lead to confidence in your delivery. The more you know it, the more confident and capable you will be talking about it.

Did you know, our brains contain ‘mirror neurons’ which automatically make us copy the emotions of the person we’re engaging with? – Knowing this, it makes sense that being relaxed and confident with your content will also make it more likely that your audience will absorb and understand it.

2. Lead with insight

Insight can be a game-changer when applied properly. Understanding your audience, what they’re working on, what they’re putting out to the world, and what they might be missing can really help you tailor what you’re communicating for resonance.

You should use real-world experience, both your own and your colleagues, along with industry insight to enhance your content. Look for things that your audience may be missing, not seeing or thinking about, and work that into your content. Explain how and where this insight supports your content and why you included it. This Insight will not only help you shape your content but also reinforce through anecdotal evidence your knowledge of it, improving your ability to communicate effectively with your audience.

3. Tell a story

Stories are by their very nature engaging. A compelling story can be effective in taking your content from a collection of points or topics to something that flows well and is easy to follow and understand.

By knowing your content, you can look for ways to craft it into a compelling story. By positioning the issue or idea at the start, then proceeding to explain how you have or will overcome or implement it, you will appear in control and knowledgeable to your audience. You will increase your credibility and ultimately help them understand it better.

4. Be visual

Visuals and metaphors are great ways to explain your content. Symbolic images can help your audience understand complex subjects that cannot always be explained in words, enhancing their understanding and retention of it.

Consumer Psychology studies have found that visuals and metaphors (like a light bulb that suggests new ideas) can enhance understanding and prompt better memory retention.

Also, utilising products like Power BI to visualise data, for example, is a great option for organising complex information for a variety of people that may have different levels of knowledge and experience.

5. Challenge yourself

Hold yourself accountable and challenge your content. Go back through each principle and ask yourself if you’ve met each one.

Make sure you avoid statements that can lead to confusion and further questions but be prepared enough so that you can answer them should they come up. Being concise and knowing your content is key and will really help you master this principle. You should know enough about your content to continually challenge your own thought process and actively seek ways to be more concise.

Principle 5 is designed to prompt you to go back to the start and through each principle again. It’s a continuous improvement loop that when put into practice makes the communication of complex information easier and more efficient.

In summary

We live in a world that communicates in images, short status updates and captions. You may have asked how you can convey your complex information in the same way, and I’m telling you, you can. As with these methods, it simply needs to be clear, understandable and told in a compelling way. By following the above principles, you will learn to tell a compelling story, use insights and knowledge of your content to educate and resonate with your audience, challenge yourself to be more concise, and ultimately create a repeatable process that teaches you to really understand your content, be passionate about it and confident enough to communicate it to any audience, regardless of role or experience.

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