Four keys to explaining complex ideas

Many times the idea or concept that you are trying to share with your community can be complex and hard to explain. If you go down the route of technical terms, graphs and “industry speak”, you’re readers will quickly lose interest and go looking for something else. So how can you take a complicated idea and present it in a way that is easy to follow and exciting to learn?

My favorite online radio show is WNYC’s Radio Lab. Most episodes involve discussion around a very complex scientific idea. While listening to one of their archived episodes, I came across one where they explained some of the principles behind how they make these very “heavy” topics fun, interesting and easy to learn.  Here’s what they have to say:

  • Use analogies and metaphors – We respond to stories instead of facts and understand complex ideas much easier when we relate it to something we already understand.  Find something normal in the world, whether it is a thing or an occurrence, that demonstrates your idea and people will grasp it much quicker.
  • Use different forms of media –  When the hosts of Radio Lab are telling their stories they often use sound effects, music and other “unconventional” elements for talk radio.  This employs different areas of the listener’s brain, helping to engage them and to bring them into the story.  With your online platform, there are so many options that allow you to do this: use video and audio, add sketches and pictures to your blog posts, essentially tell the same story across different mediums to get the most impact.
  • Make it fun – Remember how much science was fun when you were a young kid? You were boiling eggs, using food dye to color flowers, shooting rockets into the air, etc.  Then at some point in middle school everything changes and you are stuck with memorizing a long list of boring facts.  Keep your content fun.  As the hosts of Radio Lab put it, “Be 3rd grade.”  Even the most abstract or boring topic can be made interesting if you start thinking about how you would explain and show it to a 3rd grader.
  • Be the experiment – It can often be easier for people to spend all of their time thinking and researching instead of actually going out and getting their hands dirty.  Instead of sitting around talking about scientific stuff, be Galilean about it and go drop some stuff over the tower of Pisa.  If there’s any way for you to actually apply your idea to the real world and see how it effects things, go and do it.  This will always be more interesting than merely explaining your theories about how things work.

As you begin sharing your idea with the world, try using these techniques to make it easier to grasp and share by your community.

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