Some people just seem to have a knack for it: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Tim Harford, my old gender and sexuality tutor Monica Pearl (trust me, anyone that can elucidate the theories of Judith Butler deserves to be on this list).
These people can all take a seemingly complex and obtuse subject matter and explain it in a way that not only makes complete sense, but is exciting and enticing at the same time.
How do they do it?
They know what they’re talking about
I do not pretend to be in the same league as those communication heroes, but part of what we do here at Articulate Marketing is take one of those eye-rolling, impenetrable subjects – IT – and turn it into something that is relevant, interesting and maybe even exciting to other people and their businesses.
The first step in any new project for us is research. (I would guess the same goes for deGrasse Tyson and the others.) How can you possibly hope to successfully communicate and translate anything if you do not have a complete understanding of what you are talking about first?
They don’t try to impress
If a topic is worth talking about then there is rarely need to embellish it with literary flourishes and intricate jargon. Perhaps people who work in astronomical research every day need acronyms and technical language as a shorthand, but to anyone outside the field it simply obscures rather than reveals meaning.
Accurate words are fine in their rightful place, but good, plain English is best everywhere else.
They only tackle one thing at a time
You trim, you carve the words such that all that’s left is the most important concept communicated in the simplest, most direct way. – Neil deGrasse Tyson on the art of the soundbite.
Astronomy, statistics, gender and sexuality. These are huge topics, each of which contains hundreds, probably thousands of concepts, ideas and assertions. They key to making sense of them is not to try and consider them all at once.
Start with the simplest, and most important idea. Explain why it matters, and only once you are sure that is fully understood should you begin to build upon it with the next idea. Building an argument or theory is the same as building a house, it needs good foundations.
They love what they do
This is something you cannot learn or fake. Those best placed to communicate complex ideas are those that adore the subject and want to share their joy with others.
Of course in business writing things are not always so passionate and intense, but that does mean you cannot care. I enjoy writing about technology not only because it fascinates me, but also because I honestly believe that people can benefit from knowing about it. The same goes for writing, marketing and feminism. You can only write convincingly about things that you are committed to communicating about.
They have no airs and graces
Tim Harford might have a Masters Degree in Economics from Oxford but he doesn’t talk or write about his field in a way that suggests he is any better than his audience. The best communicators understand that while they have more knowledge and experience in a particular field, it does not mean they do not have more to learn and they build that open-mindedness into the way they communicate.
It is important to put your audience at ease, and make them feel included in a conversation that is open to everyone, rather than lectured at or pontificated to about an elite and exclusionary topic.
They have the keys to artful communication
Ultimately, these inspirational few exhibit four key attributes that every writer should strive to emulate when communicating a complex (or even a simple) idea: