In Made to Stick book, Chip and Dan Heath mentioned about “The Curse of Knowledge”. The curse causes us to make inaccurate assumptions about our audiences’ level of understanding. The terminology and references that sound right to us come across as confusing jargon to others, and our explanations fail.
I have seen this situation many times during stakeholders’ meetings while working on projects. Particularly when influencer stakeholder assign someone to your project to represent him or her, it is more important to be vigilant as the message may get twisted in the pipeline. Connection to the audience through effective communication removes majority of seen and unseen challenges during project execution.
Lee LeFever mentioned in his article “Battle-Tested Tips for Effective Explanations” that to create effective explanations. I am using his points to illustrate how it will work on project stakeholders or prospective clients or customers.
- Make your Audience Feel Smart, instead of Making Yourself Look Smart
Build audience knowledge and confidence by providing them information in the format they would like to hear. Audience will feel that you are talking their feelings and they will connect to you. When you are talking with stakeholders about project progress, consider their views and update the project progress. The stakeholders will accept your progress immediately.
- Explain the Forest, Not just the Trees
Always reiterate why your product exists and why it matters to them. Don’t let stakeholder forget about the purpose of the project. Focusing on the functionality without purpose in front will lead to scope creep.
- Add Details Sparingly
Don’t give too much technical information when talking with business stakeholder. Talk on business goal with business stakeholders and technical configuration with technical team. If you try to mix both business goals and technical configuration in the large stakeholder group, you will confuse everyone. Less information is always better when addressing to large group. Don’t add details. Just concentrate one or two big ideas everyone can understand. Proceed further cautiously.
- Write Less Copy, Use more Visuals
Visual communication brings the audience close to your subject. Write less talk more showing visual representation of your topic.
- Remember Your Audience is Human
Stories provide a way to see how a product works in the real world with real people. The simple stories offer a way for the audience to empathize and imagine themselves solving similar problems. The most effective stories illustrate a person in pain who found a solution and now feels relieved.
- Focus on Why
Why does this idea, product or service make sense? Why should I care about? Why does this matter to me? By answering the “why” early in a meeting or presentation, you create a foundation for understanding on which to build more complex ideas.
- Your Job is to inform Smart People
Always remember that no one likes to be talked down to, and if you approach explanation with the wrong attitude, it can be destructive. Treat the audience, as they are smart and not just informed. Use your writing and speaking tone to illustrate that the stakeholders are smart. Your main job is to inform smart people, not just help the slowest people catch up.