Wouldn’t it be nice if a communications plan were as simple as making sure that you have all of the relevant information organized in a way that makes sense? Unfortunately, finding the right package for this information is also important and can be more difficult. Developing an effective message is essential to getting the word out, especially when the information you’re putting out is highly technical or complex.
While there is definitely a time and place for technical information, we can be conditioned to hide behind complexity, rather than thinking more about our audience to clearly and concisely communicate our message. Although it takes some extra effort to determine what will resonate with our customers, investors, board members, regulatory officials, media, etc., the time we put in is well worth it.
Each Industry Has Its Own Language
When I started my career in the Aerospace and Defense industry, I literally worked with rocket scientists, PhD scientists, mathematicians, and other brilliant co-workers. Talk about intimidating! While I do have a few extra letters of my own behind my name, learning how to best communicate with these folks was challenging to say the least.
What made it especially difficult was not as much about the intimidation (I believe in the value of my work!), as it was about figuring out the industry’s language—you know, that jargon that pervades every industry?
I quickly learned how to call a post-meeting review a “hot wash.” I realized that people in A&D often speak using more acronyms than words. But some of the other lessons were learned the hard way.
I distinctly remember sitting in a new employee orientation receiving a detailed overview about my new firm’s products and services and feeling (a) overwhelmed by the amount of technical information, (b) lost in the lingo, and (c) utterly bored to tears.
I knew one thing for sure: If I was bored by our presentation, our customers would be positively comatose, that is, whenever they weren’t frustrated by trying to understand our offerings and why it mattered. This was the first time I realized that a communications plan could make a huge difference.
Don’t Blame Your Audience for Your Failure to Communicate
Now, be careful not to misunderstand the above lesson. Customers (or whoever our audience happens to be) need to clearly understand the technical specifications, features, and benefits of a solution. However, when we hide behind the technical lingo in lieu of focusing on determining the messages that resonate with our customers, that is when communications break down. We then blame the customers for not choosing our product or service saying, “they just don’t get it.” We can do better.
Instead of playing the blame game, wouldn’t it be better if we designed our communications plan around our audiences and took the time to figure out how translate technical language into a message that even those outside of our industries can relate to?
Here are some ideas for communicating highly complex information:
1. Start with the outcome.
What is the problem that you are solving? How do you help achieve your audience’s goals? In marketing strategy, experts refer to this in terms of “pain points.” The most important reason to start with the outcome when developing a communications plan is that it automatically puts you in an empathetic mindset. Thinking from your buyer’s or investor’s or board member’s perspective makes it more likely that the message you craft will resonate with your audience. My gut check here is: “Would my grandfather understand what we do?”
2. Avoid too much jargon.
A New York University study found that statements written plainly were viewed as more truthful than those that used jargon-y language. The reason? It’s easier for a reader to visualize an outcome expressed in concrete terms and apply it to their situation. Jargon-y language requires abstract thinking and separates the reader from the message.
Even if your audience is well steeped in the language of your industry, jargon is not usually the best way to articulate technical or complex information. Different experts interpret jargon differently based on their backgrounds and how long they’ve been involved in this world. So, if you want to avoid misunderstanding, it’s important to use precise language.
While some industries tend to overuse visuals, others seem to forget entirely that they are a valid communications tool. However, a well-placed visual in your presentation will do wonders to make sure your team or investors are on the same page.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that just as you need to consider what resonates with the verbiage you use, you also need to consider what resonates with the visuals you use. That means, NOT an overly complex, flow chart with super small font. Have you noticed the avalanche of infographics all over the web and in business presentations lately? It’s because a strong picture provides a concrete way to help your audience relate to and remember your message.
According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. So, take a page from your favorite professor in college and spend some time thinking about the best ways to show, rather than tell about the relationships present in your information.
4. Tell a story.
Storytelling resonates on an emotional level with your audience—making your brand more relatable and memorable. So, no matter how technical or complex the information, putting it into a narrative form will help you communicate.
In a previous blog post, we talked about ways to add storytelling elements to your communications plan. Even if storytelling is not “standard” in your industry, you can use elements of a story to get your point across. Just remember that however you present your narrative, it should relate to the outcome that you are solving for (see #1).
If you follow the above 4 tips, your communications plan will be effective, without being overwhelming, too jargon-y, or too boring. Find the right way to organize the information and to convey it in a way that your audience will appreciate and you will no longer be tempted to hide behind complexity.
Audacia Strategies knows how to help you find the message that best resonates with your audience. With our experts working with you, you’ll move from thinking “they just don’t get it” to “they couldn’t be more engaged.” Let’s do this!
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