The following post is a part of a series called "Explainer Tips" where we share lessons we've learned in crafting explanations.
Looking back on my education, one thing becomes clear: I was a not a good math student. What I've learned since then, is that I had the potential to enjoy math, but there was a mismatch between the way I needed to learn and the way I was taught. I wrote about this previously in a post called "Talkin Bout My Education." Math turned me off because it seemed like memorization and formulas with no context. I had a hard time seeing the big picture. Had someone been able to help me care about math, to see why it mattered, I might not have recurring math-related dreams to this day.
This brings us to one of the big things we've learned: Explanations should make the audience care. Without this focus, an explanation is more likely to fall on deaf or daydreaming ears. In my case, math classes seem to drone on and on because I never fully understood why it mattered.
When it comes to your explanations, remember to spend time on building context. Early on, give the audience a way to see why their time is well-spent listening to your points. If you go too quickly to the how-tos and click-heres, you're likely to lose some people.
Of course, we're believers that brevity is important as well. There's a balance - you may not be able to get into as many details if you focus on context. From our perspective - context wins. Here's why: making people care is the hard part. Time spent on making people care creates motivation that can last long after the explanation is over. Once someone believes that the subject matters to them, they're more likely to listen to the explanation and go looking for details. And that's what making people care is all about - helping people develop a new interest.
So, how do you make someone care? Future posts in this series will help to answer this question - it's one of the biggest. For now, I'll start with this tip:
Make a connection to a real world problem. For example, to explain a new mobile phone service, don't start with features or shortcuts. Instead, tell a story about a real world problem that everyday people experience. For example, you could start with "If you take the bus, you know how frustrating it can be. You never know when it will arrive." These words say nothing about a mobile phone, features or brands. Your introduction is focused on the context and the problem. By making statements that reflect real-world problems, the audience can quickly say "I know that feeling!" Helping them with this realization is the goal.
This way, your explanation has a hook - something that grabs the attention of the audience and helps them feel that the explanation could be worth their time. And ultimately, that's the value proposition - spend time with this explanation and you'll learn about something that applies to your life.
Other Explainer Tips: