One of my most popular presentation topics is titled “Turning the Technical into the Practical — Communication success”, and it’s a lot of fun to present to see the transformation in the audience.
Recently, I spoke to an audience of 500 American in-house lawyers about how we can communicate our expertise and express our technical legal opinion in an easy-to-understand format. It can be quite a challenge to express your knowledge in a way that is easy for others to understand.
This is one of the greatest challenges we have in our workplaces today.
But it is such an important skill and one of the things that professional service providers need to get right.
We can be technically skilled and the best in our field. But if the way we communicate that expertise doesn’t cut the mustard, are we actually as good and effective as we should be?
We are only as good as we communicate. If we cannot explain our knowledge in a way that is easy to understand, enabling someone like your client to do something such as make a decision, then we are not doing our jobs as well as we should be.
The conglomerate Apple created the iPod. It was revolutionary at the time and transformed the way we consumed music forever. The technologically sound people out there would be impressed to hear that the iPod’s storage size was 5 gigabytes (or something like that — I don’t know).
Explaining that to the average person, they’ll just look at you blankly. Apple knew that. In their marketing, they didn’t dazzle us with the amount of storage space that the iPod had. Instead, they said “You can now have 1,000 songs in your pocket.”
This made what could have been a really complicated and complex idea into an accessible and simple concept, and we love that. So, what are some of the key steps that we should put in place in order to communicate our expertise and those complicated concepts to our audience?
Who is the audience?
Step one is always about understanding who we are talking to. I bang on about this a lot but without this understanding, we’re doomed.
Something to keep top of mind is that as a professional service provider, we are quite literally in service of our clients and the people who pay us. We need to know what they want, how we can best assist them, and how we can do that through our assistance and services.
We need to be able to communicate at a level that is understood and useful for our audience. So, if it’s someone that you know doesn’t have a great understanding of the topic area they are asking about, you’ll need to explain things in bite-sized chunks, plain English, and perhaps even using analogies that the individual will understand.
The second thing is to keep the information relevant. Just like our Apple example from earlier, we removed the technical terminology to ensure that anyone who wanted to buy the iPod knew that it had a lot of space (at the time) because it could fit 1000 songs.
How do we make it relevant to the person we’re speaking to?
Well, we need to understand why they’re seeking your services. What is going to be important to them, and how can we bring this information into their world so that it makes sense to them.
Can we provide the information in the form of an analogy that they’ll understand? By analogy — in case you’re reading and thinking, ‘I don’t know what that is’, an analogy is a comparison between one thing and another.
Is there an analogy you could provide to your audience so they’ll understand what you mean in their context?
The third thing to keep in mind is the language that we’re using.
Plain English is going to be our best mate.
We don’t want to use confusing technical words that only people within our own industries use. That’s fine when you’re talking to others such as if I was having a conversation with other lawyers. But if I was providing legal advice to someone in my company as an in-house lawyer, I’d want to explain that in terms that are commonly used within society.
-What’s awesome is as professionals, our knowledge in our field is assumed. People come to us because we’re accountants, we’re insurance professionals, real estate professionals, lawyers — whatever it might be — we don’t need to prove that we know what we’re talking about.
We need to be able to solve the problem for the person paying us. And we can do that through ordinary English in a clear manner.
I want to leave you with a quote “tell me the time, don’t build me the clock.”
Can I help you?
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About the author:
Theo Kapodistrias is a multi-national award-winning lawyer and keynote speaker, trainer, and public speaking coach. He is passionate about getting involved in the community and holds several voluntary positions including as the Executive Director of TEDxHobart. His keynote speaking, training, and advising business is designed to help professionals and business owners to be seen, be heard, and make an impact through their voice and through their words www.theokap.com.au