In The Art of Explanation, I tell a story that put me on the path to writing the book. I was at a small tech conference and a CEO was asked "What is RSS?" His response was "RSS is an XML-based content syndication format". Yikes. That answer was the first time I saw a problem that plagues the technology and startup world. We call it an "exaplanation problem" - and a lots of great products and services have it.
In a guest post at GeekWire, I tell a story about a startup founder who learns to overcome the explanation problem by learning basic explanation skills. Here's an excerpt:
At a recent conference, a CEO asked about his product and he gave her an overview including the programming platform, how it works and a list of features. She smiled and asked coyly “That’s your explanation?” He nodded self-consciously. In a surprise move, she offered to help.
She took him on a tour of explanation basics and showed him that explanation is a skill that can be learned and improved. To start, she made a few big points.
“First, think about understanding as something that has a cost. If the cost seems too high, people will tune out and your explanation may fail. You’ve got to help them feel confident that your product is easy to understand and worth their investment in time and attention.
Alex imagined the explanation of his product as a series of steps that invite people to care.
The CEO continued by outlining a few key ideas. “An explainer’s job is to make an idea easy to understand and to do that, you must focus on empathy. Try to imagine how your words and ideas sound to your audience, look for potential confusion and simplify.”
Alex could see that his technical language, which seemed normal to him, caused people to lose confidence. He had to look for specific words and phrases that could cause problems and find simpler alternatives.
For the gripping conclusion and more explanation tips, check out the post at GeekWire.