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The Art of Explanation Book Summary

The Art of Explanation Book Summary – Ros Atkins

What you will learn from reading ‘The Art of Explanation:’

– Deconstruct the elements of a compelling explanation to enhance clarity.

– Develop a step-by-step process for constructing impactful explanations.

– How to apply this step-by-step process to more dynamic situations, like conversations.

The Art of Explanation Book Summary:

In “The Art of Explanation” by Ros Atkins, you’ll explore the intricacies of crafting impactful explanations. Atkins provides a comprehensive guide, perfect for refining your communication skills in various contexts, from formal presentations to casual conversations. With actionable advice and a conversational tone, this book offers valuable insights that are both practical and easy to digest. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to enhance their ability to articulate ideas effectively.
 

Introduction

To explain something effectively is not just about mastering the details. It’s about organising and simplifying complex ideas in a way that makes sense to others. A good explanation should grab attention by being clear, focused, and directly relevant to the listener.

Explaining is a two-way street. As the explainer, you aim to share information and sometimes encourage action. Meanwhile, the listener wants the explanation to be clear and useful. Poor explanations take more time to understand and can fail to convey the message properly.

It’s important to gather the right information, but equally crucial is how you present it – considering its relevance and how easy it is for your audience to grasp. Effective explanations combine clear purpose, precise language, and key details suited to the audience. This careful mix can significantly enhance understanding. When all these elements work together, your message comes across loud and clear.

 

Discovering the Power of Explanation

Ros Atkins has developed a method to collect, analyse, and use a lot of information effectively for explaining ideas and building arguments.

 

The Centrality of Explanations

Effective explainers captivate by addressing knowledge gaps, and providing essential background.

Ros Atkins embarked on this style of explanation after recognising that superior information on phones poses a challenge to traditional news consumption. Viewers, he discovered, turn on the television not for breaking news but for detailed context, live visuals, curation, and analysis.

 

Why is it important to be good at explaining things?

Explanation is relevant whatever you’re making the case for. Regardless of the subject, a well-crafted explanation not only enhances promotion but also elevates the essence of what’s advocated, increasing the chances of a favourable outcome.

 

A great way to improve your explanation ability

Learning from others who excel in communication is key, emphasising the continuous incorporation of effective strategies.

 

Part 1: The Anatomy of a Good Explanation

The ten attributes that make up a good explanation.

  1. SIMPLICITY
  2. ESSENTIAL DETAIL
  3. COMPLEXITY
  4. EFFICIENCY
  5. PRECISION
  6. CONTEXT
  7. NO DISTRACTIONS
  8. ENGAGING
  9. USEFUL
  10. CLARITY OF PURPOSE

 

Simplicity

Effective communication hinges on simplicity. Short words and concise sentences remove obstacles to comprehension.

Watch out for hindrances like words, facts, or phrases that act as barriers. Eliminate superfluous adjectives, obscure vocabulary, unnecessary details, and lengthy sentences.

The aim is clear communication through the removal of distractions.

Ask yourself: Is this the simplest way I can say this?

 

Essential Detail

You should want to simplify the language, not the subject matter. Detail is valuable, so choose it wisely, too much and it can dilute the essential information. A surplus of nonessential details diminishes the impact and hinders effective communication.

“Including most of the interesting details on a subject can be seductive but beware the law of diminishing returns. Every piece of nonessential information makes it harder for the essential information to be communicated.”

Ask Yourself: What detail is essential to this explanation?

 

Complexity

Navigating complexities in communication is vital. Naturally the more complicated a subject, the greater the risk to an effective explanation. You need to be confident in describing something with clarity and fluency. If you find yourself avoiding complexity, it is usually a clue that you are not ready to explain it yet. Rather than jumping the gun, it is better to take your time to understand the content before attempting to explain it.

Understanding the complexity of a topic matters for two reasons:

  1. if complexity is badly explained, then it can undermine not only someone’s understanding of what you’re trying to convey but also their faith in you as a source of useful information.
  2. By gaining a better understanding of a particular topic, you can step back and make better judgements about what to include in your explanation.

Ask Yourself: Are there elements of this subject I don’t understand?

 

Efficiency

Example of working within the confines of a boundary and being efficient:

  • Presenting the first iPod prototype, engineers faced rejection from Steve Jobs, who found it too big. Despite the engineers’ insistence that it couldn’t be made any smaller, Jobs proceeded to drop it into an aquarium, from which air bubbles arose. He said “Those are air bubbles, that means there’s space in there. Make it smaller.”

This concept also applies to explanations. Instead of tightening up explanations, we tend to fall into three traps; rushing delivery, cramming too much information, or discarding valuable details. All of which can harm our explanations.

Ask Yourself: Is this the most succinct way I can say this?

 

Precision

Effective writing hinges on selecting the precise words to convey your intended meaning. Choosing words may seem straightforward, but a common mistake is failing to express exactly what we mean. The process of getting it right involves first figuring out what we want to convey.

“In the words of Allan Little, “If your sentences are too long, your writing hasn’t been disciplined enough. If your writing hasn’t been disciplined enough, your thinking hasn’t been disciplined enough!” Discipline is key to clarity.”

If the content is potent enough, the words can be sparse. In explanation, less becomes more when the core information is valuable. Remember, emotional writing wields its power when it is punishingly precise!

Ask Yourself: Am I saying exactly what I want to communicate?

 

Context

In explanation, context is crucial. Nothing in human experience exists in isolation; significance comes from connections to other events, people, or knowledge. Recognisable phrases like “The reason this matters is…” stress the importance of maintaining context. By providing context, you enhance understanding and increase the chances of engaging your audience.

Ask Yourself: Why does this matter to the people I’m addressing?

 

No Distractions

Explanations often falter due to distractions, which manifest in both verbal and visual forms.

 

So what are verbal distractions and how can we avoid them?

  • One form of verbal distraction can be the words we use. Speakers often introduce unfamiliar words or references, assuming shared knowledge. This can leave listeners confused or disengaged.
  • Failing to explain something may seem tempting, but it risks alienating the audience. Therefore, it is crucial to assess the listener’s level of knowledge. When references arise, especially to partially known or unknown concepts, strategic explanations or deletions become necessary.
  • An easy way to get around this is to separate words into two categories; partially known and unknown. Partially known words, such as ‘inflation’ or ‘Paris Climate Accord,’ may require explanations, while unknown words like ‘proroguing’ demand careful consideration.
  • Resist using complex vocabulary solely for the sake of appearing clever. Clear communication trumps linguistic flair, as it ensures your audience’s engagement and comprehension. </aside>

 

And what are visual distractions and how can we avoid them?

  • In the visual realm, distractions arise when images lack relevance or purpose. Instead of using visuals as mere backdrop, integrate them purposefully, referencing them explicitly. They need to enhance rather than detract from the narrative.
  • Only showcase visuals when explicitly referenced. Avoid cluttering the explanation. </aside>

Avoid providing multiple competing information sources. Cluttering with visuals or references can interfere with comprehension. A singular, well-referenced source ensures clarity and engagement.

Ask Yourself: Are there verbal, written or visual distractions?

 

Engaging

You need to constantly check for attention lapses and ask yourself, is my plan clear and purposeful? Am I giving reasons to stay engaged?

Was it too wordy? Did this section serve a clear purpose? Was the information essential or just interesting? Were we inadvertently giving reasons for people’s attention to wander?

The best explanations seamlessly connect each section, part by part. But if one link underperforms, it can impact the entire chain.

Ask Yourself: Are there moments when attention could waver?

 

Useful

Ros explains that whenever he sets out to explain something he creates a list of anticipated questions. Answering them all increases the likelihood that the audience will be interested in what I have to say and not be distracted by dwelling on questions.

Ask Yourself: Have I answered the questions that people have?

 

Clarity of purpose

If you’re not sure exactly what you’re trying to do or say, people tend to notice.

In reviewing any communication, a powerful test is to ask if each element explicitly supports the overall purpose. Removing irrelevant parts leaves a purpose-aligned collection. The purpose guides every decision in preparing an explanation.

Ask Yourself: Above all else, what am I trying to explain?

 

So, to create a great explanation you need to ask yourself 10 things:

  1. SIMPLICITY Is this the simplest way I can say this?
  2. ESSENTIAL DETAIL What detail is essential to this explanation?
  3. COMPLEXITY Are there elements of this subject I don’t understand?
  4. EFFICIENCY Is this the most succinct way I can say this?
  5. PRECISION Am I saying exactly what I want to communicate?
  6. CONTEXT Why does this matter to the people I’m addressing?
  7. NO DISTRACTIONS Are there verbal, written or visual distractions?
  8. ENGAGING Are there moments when attention could waver?
  9. USEFUL Have I answered the questions that people have?
  10. CLARITY OF PURPOSE Above all else, what am I trying to explain? 

 

Part 2: Know Your Audience

You see, the more we know about who we are speaking to, the more we can calibrate our explanation and the more likely we are to communicate effectively.

 

To do this, we can ask five helpful questions:

  1. The Target: who am I talking to?
  2. Knowledge Assessment: on this subject, what do they know and what would they like to know?
    • While we can’t know everyone’s knowledge entirely, we can assess their understanding. As the audience grows, it becomes more challenging, but striving to understand their needs helps tailor the most relevant and beneficial information.
  3. Tailor it: how do they like to receive information?
    • You may have the right message, but you risk your audience’s attention if you deliver it in the wrong way.
  4. Make it personal: how best can you convey that this information is for them?
    • “Most of the time, we are constantly competing for people’s attention. One of the most effective ways of getting that attention is to make your intended audience realise that what you have is for them. If someone feels you are talking to them, they are far more likely to engage and respond. Equally, if someone feels you are communicating with a group but not particularly with them, they pay less attention and are less likely to respond.”
    • The more directed the questions, the more people feel you are talking and engaging with them.
    • Use the information you know about your audience, like where they are listening, age, etc to direct your questions at them, for example, ‘If you’re listening in Australia, how are you affected by rising temperatures?’
  5. Believing in the messenger: how best can you be credible?
    • Being mindful of the foundation of your credibility and selecting the right language significantly improves your chances of being heard.
    • Of course, we can’t always possess credibility in advance, especially when addressing those unfamiliar with us or individuals who believe they have more knowledge on the topic.
    • You can build credibility into your explanation by asking yourself:
      1. Am I credible to the people I’m addressing?
        1. How do I want to be seen and am I achieving this?
      2. Who do I need to be credible to?
        1. Can they be treated as one or are there different groups?
        2. For each group, are there long-term ways of building my credibility?
        3. If yes, what form would that take? If not, how can I build my credibility quickly?
      3. Which aspects of my experience and knowledge will enhance my credibility?
        1. Can I speak on these areas with fluency and precision? 

 

Part 3: Seven-Step Explanation

Step One: Set-up

Before crafting your explanation, contemplate these questions to help shape it:

  1. What do you hope to explain and/or communicate?
    • Provide one sentence maximum. If you’re struggling, write a paragraph with everything you think is the purpose of this explanation. Read it over a couple of times. How would you summarise the overall purpose?
  2. Who is this explanation for?
  3. Is there a consistency of knowledge amongst those you’re addressing?
  4. How do you assess their knowledge of this subject?
  5. How would you summarise what they’d like to learn from you?
  6. What specific questions will this explanation need to answer?
  7. What, if anything, do we know about how they like to receive information?
  8. Are there ways you could find out more?
  9. Where will this be consumed?
  10. Is there a fixed duration?
  11. Is the duration strict?

 

QUICK CHECK

Are you happy with what you’re doing and who it is for?

 

Step Two: Find the information

In this step, the goal is not to organise the information but rather to gather all potentially relevant details in one spot. Start by asking yourself:

  1. Where and how should I look for information?
  2. Which parts of the subject do I want to explain?

 

Where to find trustworthy and reliable information

  • Ros points out a great rule of thumb that is often used in the world of BBC which is the ‘two source rule’ which refers to seeking information from two reliable sources. However, determining what counts as reliable is subjective.
  • Asking ‘What’s the source?’ is a swift method to gauge information quality. If no source is found, it’s a reason for scepticism. When a source is identified, the next step is assessing its reliability.
  • Similar to news sources, the reliability of information from different friends varies—one may have a proven track record, while another may be less reliable. 

 

Your Questions List

Anticipate confusion: Identify potential areas of misunderstanding in your explanations.

Embrace the question “What don’t you understand?” to avoid self-deception and ensure genuine comprehension. Remind yourself that merely possessing accurate information does not guarantee understanding.

 

QUICK CHECK

At this stage, you should have:

  • A brief overview of your topic and audience
  • Anticipated audience questions
  • Areas where you seek a better understanding
  • Key subject areas to cover
  • A gathered reservoir of information

 

Step Three: Distil the Information

The aim of this distillation is to refine our information to its core – the most concise and usable form. We strive for clarity by eliminating anything non-essential to understanding these elements.

 

The First Sweep

  • Reconnect with your ‘purpose.’
  • Initiate an assessment of your information.
  • Question the relevance as you read.
  • For each retained section, pinpoint its unique value by asking yourself: what is it that is of value here? and then eliminate any excess.
  • As you navigate through the information, distil a list of valuable elements—facts, phrases, arguments, quotes, statistics, graphics, theories—stripped down to their simplest, most impactful forms for your explanation.

 

The Second Sweep

  • Go back to the beginning and start again.
  • Delete anything that is not relevant or does not align with your purpose. Be decisive—if it doesn’t contribute to your goal, remove it.

 

In case you don’t know how to decide if something is relevant or not try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does this element align with the overarching purpose of the explanation
  • What significance does this particular element hold in the explanation?
  • If uncertain, keep it for now. The priority is removing information that doesn’t help.
  • Mastering the art of separating essential from non-essential enhances clarity in explanations and communications. 

 

QUICK CHECK

  1. Are there any gaps in the information you need?
  2. If there are, repeat Steps Two and Three for where you see a gap.
  3. Do you have anything to add to the list of questions you have?
  4. Is all the information you have in its simplest form?

 

Step Four: Organise the Information

In this step, we delve into identifying what Ros terms as ‘strands’ of an explanation; or what others might refer to as sections, chunks, or themes.

For example, for a 10-minute presentation, you might have five strands, whereas for a 30-minute presentation, you might have five to ten.

 

What Story Do You Want to Tell?

Once you’ve identified your strands, we’re going to add two more:

  • One for uncertain information
  • One for high-impact details suitable for the beginning and end of the explanation.

Stories are crucial in explanations as their ‘central message’ brings coherence, connection, and emotion to all you offer—information, design, products, and customer service.

Before and after writing, ask yourself: ‘What’s this story in five words?’ Ensure you’ve captured that essence.

While facts and context are valuable, stories surpass them in capturing attention and curiosity. The best explanations weave relevant information into well-told narratives.

Pause to ponder the story you aim to tell. Consider exercises like describing your work when someone calls or experimenting with various starting points; you’ll quickly discern the most effective ones.

 

Different Story Structures

There are diverse storytelling approaches for explanations. If you’re seeking inspiration, consider these classic methods:

  1. Chronological: Structure your story based on the passage of time, breaking it into sections that highlight key developments as they unfold.
  2. Finish/Start/Finish: Begin by outlining the desired outcome, then revisit the start, working through to how it happened, and looping back to the outcome.
  3. Zoom Out: Start with the focused event or issue, gradually expanding to reveal more context and detail.
  4. All Context: In the “All Context” approach, you unravel an issue systematically. After introducing the main point, you assert, ‘Yet, comprehending this requires delving into X.’ Introduce and conclude each strand—building the intricate context step by step.
  5. What Someone Said: Build your explanation around a powerful statement or finding. Start with this, using it as a reference point throughout for a cohesive structure and language.
  6. Solving a Problem: Identify a problem, then outline step by step how it was addressed.
  7. Block by Block: By constructing your explanation in front of the audience, you can build momentum and curiosity as you state that each part of the explanation would not make sense without the part that has gone before. 

 

Add the Information

Organise your distilled information by placing each element into the appropriate strand of your story. Since your choice of strands is guided by the distillation process, most elements will naturally find a place. If something seems out of place but remains important, allocate it to the strand for ‘uncertain information.’

Additionally, be on the lookout for elements with exceptional clarity, relevance, and impact—consider placing them in the strand for ‘high-impact details suitable for the beginning and end of the explanation.’

The specific order of elements within each strand is not crucial at this stage.

Organise the Information within the Strands

Now, let’s delve into each subject strand individually. Review all the elements within it and ponder these questions:

  1. What do I aim to accomplish with each strand of the explanation?
  2. Among the elements in each strand, which are the most crucial?
  3. What should be the starting point for each strand?
  4. Which elements naturally flow from one to another?
  5. In this moment, how would you articulate each strand to someone?

 

Arrange elements within each strand to create a logical order. Start with the key element, introduce subsequent pieces, and build a cohesive narrative. Ensure each element serves its purpose, continuing until the strand effectively conveys the intended information. Identify any missing elements, and if needed, fill those gaps to complete the narrative.

 

The High-Impact Elements

Create an impactful introduction and conclusion by selecting elements that fit these roles. Place them together in new strands marked, ensuring alignment with your chosen narrative structure. Note, the chosen elements should align with the narrative structure you’ve chosen.

 

Visual Elements

You can enhance clarity and impact with visual elements by incorporating them into each strand. Start by:

  1. Identify key phrases, facts, or actions to emphasise
  2. Determine the visual content for the beginning of your explanation.
  3. Plan the concluding image that will leave a lasting impression

 

QUICK CHECK

From this section, you should have clarity on your explanation’s purpose, narrative, and storytelling approach. Assess the effectiveness of your strands and determine if visual elements are needed. Identify any new areas for coverage and evaluate the ‘not sure’ strand. Consider seeking advice if necessary.

 

Step 5: Link the Information

Before putting pen to paper, consider these questions:

  1. Is your language as straightforward as possible?
  2. Do you understand the purpose of each element?
  3. Are you crystal clear about the message of each sentence?
  4. Identify any remaining areas of uncertainty.
  5. Make a note of lingering questions.
  6. Ensure you have your list of anticipated audience questions ready. 

 

Let the Writing Begin

Start at the beginning, shaping the narrative by starting each section with the element you’ve placed at the top. If you face challenges in the flow, try starting with a different element. If stuck, identify whether it’s due to uncertainty about what to say or how to express it. Addressing these questions usually resolves blocks. There may also be a practical problem. Consider discarding or adding elements, or adjusting the order, which might contribute to challenges.

 

Writing Techniques to Help You Explain and Tell a Story

  • Avoiding Hard Stops
    • Incorporate sentences seamlessly to maintain the flow and prevent hard stops or breaks.
    • Consider using ‘trailing’ techniques’ which involves providing a hint or preview of what’s coming up next, encouraging listeners or viewers to stay tuned.
  • Surfacing the Structure
    • Explicitly state the structure of your explanation to provide a roadmap for your audience. This not only helps structure your thoughts but also helps your audience see the subject from the same vantage point as you.
    • Use phrases like “Now we have looked at X, the next part of this issue is Y.”
    • “All explanations have a start and a destination. Most are linear- and linear communication is easier to follow. However, on some subjects, being linear is not always possible. You may need to go at a tangent to provide necessary background or context.”
    • If you are going to go on a tangent, signal it with phrases like “Now I mentioned X, but we can’t go any further without examining how X fits into this Y.”
  • Joining Phrases
    • Experiment with ‘joining phrases’ and ‘hooks’ to maintain continuous momentum and smooth transitions between elements.
    • Incorporate micro-trails that look back and look forward, connecting elements seamlessly. For example: “That fact helps us understand this issue. But it’s not the full picture. To get that, you also need to factor in X.”
  • Back Annos and Hooks
    • Implement ‘back annos’ (back announcements) to provide context and connect information, creating a more cohesive narrative.
    • Use back annos to enhance the storytelling by looking back at previous information before introducing new elements.
    • Rather than a repetitive pattern of introducing and sharing information, we can enhance communication with back annos and joining phrases as shown below:
      1. Introduction to some information
      2. Share the information
      3. Back anno to add context
      4. Introduction to some more information
      5. Share the information
      6. Joining phrase with a hook
      7. Introduction to some more information
      8. Share the information
  • Parallel Chronologies
    • Explore the use of parallel strands in your explanation to create a powerful storytelling effect.
    • Use words like ‘meanwhile’ and ‘as’ to switch between different events occurring simultaneously. E.g. As X was happening in one place, Y was happening in another.
  • Splitting Sentences into Two
    • Opt for shorter sentences, especially in verbal explanations, to enhance comprehension and delivery. Follow the rule of thumb of not exceeding fifteen words in a sentence for better clarity.
  • Put the Subject of the Sentence Near the Front
    • Start your sentence with the subject for clarity and focus, avoiding placement in the middle to prevent confusion.
    • Reference the subject before you talk about it.
  • The Power of ‘and’
    • Leverage the word ‘and’ at the start of a sentence or as a joining phrase to signal to your audience ‘that’s not all.’ </aside>

 

Does this Sound Like Me

Understand your communication style and preferences. Consider what you’d say and what you wouldn’t, letting this awareness guide your expression.

 

Bring Things Together

As you conclude, instead of simply stating ‘in conclusion,’ signal that its a result of the preceding information. Here are some examples:

  1. So, considering all of that…
  2. Taking all of these factors into account.
  3. Combining all those developments…
  4. When we merge all this information, we begin to understand why…
  5. Reaching the cumulative point

 

The Beginning and the End

Your first and last sentences are key for engaging your audience and leaving a lasting impression. Crafting compelling openers and closers helps outline your explanation’s purpose and conclusion effectively.

 

QUICK CHECK

  • Are you happy that you’ve stuck to your story structure?
  • Have you used different techniques to provide emphasis and momentum?
  • Does it sound like you?

 

Step Six: Tighten

We often lean towards things we’ve invested in (a phenomenon known as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’). But in constructing explanations, being able to detach is particularly valuable.

“If the only resistance is based on the time invested or personal attachment to a particular phrase, it gets cut.”

 

Ways to Tighten Your Explanation:

  1. Identify essential personal/place names, dates, and statistics. Trim non-essential information for clarity.
  2. Streamline and simplify complex sections.
  3. Trim unnecessary words and phrases without losing meaning. For example:
    • Before: That’s smaller compared to the other one.
    • After: That’s smaller than the other one.
  4. Eliminate anything that is unexplained and could distract.
  5. Make sure what you’re showing matches what you’re saying.
  6. Craft a compelling intro and conclusive ending.
  7. Make sure to answer all potential audience questions.
  8. Essential Elements: Evaluate whether all the strands and elements are necessary.
  9. Second Opinion:
    • Verify accuracy, fairness, and comprehensiveness.
    • Ensure no assumption of excessive prior knowledge.
    • Use a second perspective to assess story coherence.

 

QUICK CHECK

Are you satisfied you’ve tightened this as far as it can go?

Is there anyone you’d like to show it to?

 

Step Seven: Delivery

How can we ensure our explanations are engaging, avoiding a rushed or overwhelming feel? We must keep in mind that perfection is not what the audience desires; instead, they seek an explanation that captivates, one they’d willingly revisit.

The approach to delivery is a two-step process:

  1. One is to get it to perfection, which can be achieved from steps one to six
  2. Two is to transcend perfection to achieve a natural, almost improvised quality.

 

Verbalisation

Ask yourself, “Would I speak like this?” If the answer is no, adjustments are necessary. Verbalizing every explanation, whether written or spoken, is key. Begin by reading slowly, ensuring each word resonates. Consider these questions:

  1. Does this capture my voice? Adjust words for authenticity.
  2. Do sentences flow logically? Tweak endings or beginnings for smoother transitions.
  3. Does the overall flow feel right? Identify words disrupting the rhythm and refine.

Repeat this process until your explanation aligns seamlessly with your voice and style.

 

Placing Your Visual Elements

Mark your script with visual cues, aligning them with relevant sections. Some visuals complement longer sections, while others are moment-specific. Precise timing enhances visual impact significantly.

Align the visuals with your speech rhythm for maximum effectiveness. Ensure coherence between your words and visuals by practising with the script. Adjust the visuals until they seamlessly support your narrative.

Refine until they complement each other seamlessly. Remember, compelling content trumps flashy effects. Avoid unnecessary sounds or animations unless they contribute directly to your explanation.

 

Script v Bullet Points

Script: Maintaining focus on a script can be tricky as a lot of words will greet your eyes. You need to be able to find your place easily. To streamline this:

  • Confirm the font size for quick glances.
  • Optimise line spacing.
  • Include headers for easy navigation.

While a scripted approach works on occasion, relying solely on it may hinder connection. Bullet points offer a more accessible alternative.

However, reading from a script risks being overly formal and constraining your ability to connect with the people you’re addressing.

Bullet points: Ask yourself if your notes are just there to make you feel better or actually be better.

  • For bullet points, create a new version of your full explanation, then go section by section, stripping out unnecessary details. Focus on trigger words that jog your memory for each segment. Practice each section individually, gradually stitching them together. Pay attention to natural moments to glance at your notes during practice. 

 

Visual Prompts

Slides can act as visual prompts, replacing the need for notes. Practice talking through the slides until you can discuss the content naturally without relying on them.

 

Pace

Speaking slower not only enhances engagement but also improves breathing, which can convey authority. To assess your performance, record and listen to yourself or seek feedback.

 

Emphasis Techniques

Certain points carry more weight in your message. Modulating your pace, utilising pauses, and adjusting intonation can highlight these crucial moments. For example:

[Start at regular speed] This fall in sales was predicted. The industry body released this statement saying: [minor pause, speed up] ‘We’re very disappointed with what has been allowed to happen but sadly this was the only possible outcome once the regulations were brought in.’ It goes on: [back to regular speed] We will be taking legal action! [Minor pause] And look at the numbers it released. Sales in the sector were worth [slower] £100 million two years ago. Last year they were [minor pause] £10 million.

 

Script Marking Techniques

  1. / Pause
  2. // Pause for emphasis
  3. → Keep talking
  4. Underline for emphasis

 

Sticking to Time

There are two common pitfalls when it comes to sticking to time.

  1. One is you tend to be slower when performing compared to rehearsing in a relaxed environment.
  2. Two is the tendency to add extra words and phrases during the speech, which can make it sound fluent but also extend the time and reduce precision.

 

Have a Hands Plan

When it comes to hands, less is often more. Excessive hand movements can be distracting. However, subtle gestures can serve as effective punctuation.

 

How to Stand

Stand comfortably, imagining the camera or audience as a person. Let your body and hands settle naturally, fostering a more engaging and natural delivery. Plan your movements in your speaking space, You’ll soon work out the places where you feel comfortable speaking from and where you don’t. Avoid awkward no man’s land scenarios. The key is to decide and be clear on your plan for effective delivery.

 

The Importance of Rehearsal

Here’s a rehearsal checklist:

  1. Go through each section individually.
  2. Rehearse the entire explanation.
  3. Address any parts you weren’t satisfied with.
  4. Ensure you stay comfortably within your time limit.
  5. Simulate the speaking environment, considering movements and positions.
  6. Consider recording for valuable feedback (optional but recommended for important explanations).

 

QUICK CHECK

Is there any aspect of the explanation and how you’re going to deliver it that you’re still not sure of?

Have you rehearsed what you’re aiming to do?

 

Part 4: Seven-Step Dynamic Explanation

In controlled settings, we craft explanations meticulously. Yet, in fluid situations beyond our control, meeting communication expectations becomes trickier. To address this, you’ll build upon existing techniques and learn to articulate your message irrespective of the questions posed.

These are our Seven Steps – but this time with a twist.

  1. SET-UP
  2. FIND THE INFORMATION
  3. DISTIL THE INFORMATION
  4. ORGANISE THE INFORMATION
  5. VERBALISE
  6. MEMORISE
  7. QUESTIONS

 

Steps One to Three: Prepare the Information

The initial steps remain consistent. After completing them, you’ll have a list of essential information, however, it will not yet be organised.

 

Step Four: Organise the Information

This is where our approach shifts to a ‘controlled’ versus ‘dynamic’ explanation. In presentations or essays, we retain ample information within each strand, but in dynamic situations, we streamline each strand significantly. The reason is simple: making a presentation or essay allows for a relaxed assembly, but verbal answers demand immediate construction. Hence, our building blocks must be straightforward, memorable, and practical.

Depending on the size of the subject, you’re working on, you might have three strands or several. Regardless, for each distinct section of the subject, strive to limit the elements to five.

The structure should start with a primary point, followed by some facts, and then the context. It should look like this:

STRAND A

  • Primary point
  • Fact
  • Fact
  • Fact
  • Context

Here’s a simple example if you were going for a job.

  • Strand: Organising large events
    • Primary point: extensive experience across event types and countries rga
    • Fact: Project-managed a 2,000-person conference
    • Fact: Responsibility for budget, personnel and marketing
    • Fact: Freelance event organiser in five countries
    • Context: Recently promoted to head of events at current company

 

“It can also be useful to group the strands so that you’ve thought about which ones connect closely together. This will allow you to move from one strand to a related one more easily”

 

QUICK CHECK

  • Are your strands of information clearly defined?
  • Are you happy with the information you have within each strand?

 

Step Five: Verbalise

In any interaction, your brain is multitasking: understanding queries, formulating responses, selecting relevant knowledge, estimating time constraints, and assessing the audience’s information needs.

Front-loading some of these calculations in advance makes decision-making more efficient. Verbalisation is crucial in helping with this, as it creates a network of connections around the information, making it more usable. Speaking helps identify effective phrases, points, ideas, and confident use of names.

 

Verbalise Each Strand

  1. Connect two strands together
    • Select two strands and transition smoothly from one to the other, considering the flow between them. Experiment with various combinations of strands, observing how they complement or contrast with each other.
  2. Bridging Phrases
    • In dynamic explanations, transitioning between strands smoothly is essential. “Bridging phrases” facilitate seamless transitions without specific content, ensuring fluid movement between strands. Some examples include:
      • Emphasising one area, another is…
      • There is more than one aspect to consider, such as…
      • Another key point is…
      • Additionally, we can examine…
      • This aspect also connects to…
      • Exploring different dimensions, another is…
      • Understanding this issue requires considering…
      • Moreover, this links to…

 

In Search of Time

In dynamic situations, while organising thoughts may seem challenging, there are pockets of time to capitalise on. With more time, we can make informed decisions in response to others. It involves not just knowing where to look but understanding the subtle patterns of conversation clues, and extracting valuable information.

By immersing ourselves in the information of our explanations beforehand, we can gradually ‘chunk’ it (which we’ll get onto in a minute). This is crucial as it empowers us to leverage the pockets of time within a conversation more effectively, enabling us to retrieve more information within the same timeframe.

 

QUICK CHECK

  • Have you verbalised your information so that it feels comfortable to say?
  • Are you comfortable moving between different strands of information?

 

Step Six: Memorise

To convey clear explanations in dynamic situations, you must effortlessly access pre-prepared information chunks and arrange them based on the context of the inquiry.

 

Memory Techniques

Identifying information, learning its order, and labelling it as a single entity is the essence of chunking. The next level is to order these chunks and remember them as a single entity.

Aim for around ten to twenty chunks, avoiding overload for better retention. If needed, split strands into separate chunks with distinct labels. You can highlight, bold, or summarise content instead of requiring it word for word.

Invest time into this process. The more you do it, the easier it will become. This memory process has the ability to transform your communication from perfect to natural.

 

Utilise these three memory methods for effective recall:

  1. Link Method/ Story Method:
    • Create a story touching on five subjects in a specific order.
    • Retell the story for sequential recall.
  2. Journey Method:
    • Associate and attach information you want to remember to familiar routes and locations (e.g. journey to the supermarket)
  3. Memory Palaces:
    • Similar to the journey method, this involves associating details with specific areas in a familiar location (e.g. home)

 

QUICK CHECK

  1. Are you clear on what you’d like to memorise?
  2. Have you decided which memory technique you’re going to use?
  3. Have you practised your explanation without notes?

 

Step Seven: Questions

You may not control when or what you speak about, similar to how Roger Federer doesn’t control the serves he receives. However, like him, you can influence how you respond.

 

Predicting the Questions

Anticipate likely questions based on the subject, the individuals, and potential areas of interest. Think about:

  • What questions would naturally arise?
  • What could someone ask to challenge you?
  • Are there questions you hope to avoid?
  • Are there peripheral topics that might be brought up?
  • Can you gather information about the questioners?

The next task is to split the list into three:

  1. Questions you think you can answer
  2. Questions you need to work on how to answer
  3. Questions you need new information to answer 

 

Plotting Your Answers

For some questions, a simple “Yes” suffices, while others may require a more elaborate response, pulling in relevant pre-prepared strands. The key is to be relevant, efficient, and clear, considering the time constraints. When facing the first question, prioritise the strands that best address it.

Handling tough questions is crucial, as ignoring them can impact your confidence. Anticipate and prepare at least a basic response for questions requiring more information, understanding that a little preparation goes a long way.

 

Answering Questions in the Moment

Preparing in advance significantly extends our response time. By organizing and internalising information beforehand, we relieve our brains don’t have to do it in the moment. Practicing potential questions enhances our ability to address them effectively.

Our objective has always been to approach topics from various angles and sequences. Anticipating potential questions sharpens our awareness during conversations. For instance, if a question hints at a familiar topic, we swiftly navigate our mental repository to craft a tailored response.

For instance, if a recognisable word appears in a question after three seconds, and the question spans seventeen seconds, you have a fourteen-second window to assess your mental inventory and determine the sequence for presenting your information.

 

Selecting and Sharing the Structure

As you hear the question, consider which strands to use in your response. Similar to explanations, core messages remain consistent, but the ordering varies based on the context. For instance, in an interview about managing others, you might structure your answer like this: “I’d emphasise three aspects of my career – my experience at X, my previous work at Y, and my volunteer work at Z.”

 

Mirror Language

Be careful not to appear disconnected from the question. While structuring your response, actively listen to the questioner’s language and incorporate it into your answer.

 

Saying What You Want to Say

Whether faced with questions that skirt around a desired topic or unrelated inquiries, adeptly guide the conversation by strategically steering toward the territory you wish to explore. Take a brief detour related to the question and smoothly return to it.

Use ‘escape phrases’ to steer away from undesired questions and guide the conversation to more favourable topics. Think of ‘escape phrases’ as quick verbal manoeuvres, akin to ‘joining phrases’ or ‘bridging phrases,’ redirecting the conversation to more favourable topics. Some of these consist of:

  • Absolutely, and equally crucial is…
  • That’s a valid point, and related to it is…
  • It’s worth considering various aspects. Besides that, ponder…
  • I appreciate your emphasis on that. Additionally, I’d underscore.
  • Another aspect worth mentioning is in complete agreement. Also…
  • Indeed, and this is just one facet among several concerns…

 

Answering Questions that you don’t Know the Answer To

Acknowledge your limits, and shift to known areas. If necessary, stretch information, but prioritise substance over length. Stopping may lead to a more suitable follow-up question.

 

Taking Confidence From Your Preparation

When adequately prepared, simply being yourself is sufficient. In high-pressure situations, the temptation to transform into someone else, someone better, may arise, but it’s not recommended.

 

The Unexpected is Expected

“If you accept that the unexpected could easily happen when it does, it’s not a surprise and you’re going to think through the situation much more clearly.”

 

QUICK CHECK

  1. When you think of the main subjects you need to talk about, are you concerned about any of them?
  2. Have you gone over your list of expected questions?
  3. Are you taking confidence from all the preparation you’ve done?

 

Part 5: Quick Explanations

Before engaging in a non-social conversation, contemplate what you wish to convey, inquire about, and discover.

 

Quick Verbal Explanations

Three essential queries to promptly address:

  1. What topics do I intend to cover?
  2. What messages do I aim to convey?
  3. What inquiries do I want to pose?

 

Short Written Explanations

Individual emails and messages, although seemingly insignificant, offer opportunities to convey your message effectively and save resources. A clear initial message minimizes subsequent questions, saving time and improving interactions, ultimately enhancing your reputation.

 

My Assumptions When I Write an Email

Producing effective written explanations requires acknowledging the context and potential success factors. When writing emails, consider five key assumptions:

  1. The recipient/s may not read it all.
  2. They may skim rather than read thoroughly.
  3. Engagement is functional.
  4. Content should be tailored to functional needs.
  5. Personalisation is crucial for engagement.

 

Enhance Email Effectiveness by Employing Two Strategies

  • Craft a subject line and initial sentence directly relevant to the recipient or content
  • Keep the email concise.

In professional settings, directness is appreciated, but with unfamiliar contacts, introduce yourself briefly. Additionally, utilize short paragraphs, formatting, and headers for easy readability.

Provide all necessary details in one location and avoid group messages, which may decrease response rates.

 

SHORT WRITTEN EXPLANATION – QUICK REFERENCE

  1. EXPLAIN THE MESSAGE IN THE FIRST SENTENCE
  2. IS YOUR MESSAGE AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE?
  3. IS IT FORMATTED TO BE SKIMMABLE?
  4. IS IT EASY TO RESPOND TO?
  5. HAVE YOU ANSWERED THE READER’S QUESTIONS?