Have you ever heard of Funafuti? No? What about Aldabra? Still nothing? What about something called an atoll? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. But, something sounding kind of familiar, knowing what it is, and being able to explain what it is to someone else are very different things, aren’t they? That’s why I’m dying to tell you about a critical thinking tool I discovered because usually I go on and on about how you can turn your knowledge into info products or blog posts, and then into cash, and some of you were like “so, Cindy, how do I extract what I know from my skull and distil it into something I can inject into my customers’ skulls that will actually help them?”. OK, there was just one person who formulated it that way, but the question was often the same: how do I explain what I know?
If there’s one skill that offers a huge competitive advantage to those who master it, well, it might just be the art of explaining things to people. How else can you communicate effectively? Or sell your ideas? Or help people understand what your company or product does? Or teach them how to solve their problems through your info products, webinars, or blog posts?
If you can’t explain your ideas, you can’t be a great copywriter. You can’t build products. You can’t start your tech company. You can’t even get people to understand what it is that you do at work. Next time grandma asks you what your job entails, don’t settle for saying “stuff, online”, do better. I’m sure you’ll be able to, because my plan for you, for today, is to introduce you to the work of 3 people who deserve some statues – Linda Elder, Richard Paul, and Gerard Hosich. They came up and perfected a simple step by step technique to explain anything to anyone.
S → E → E → I
These letters stand for State, Elaborate, Exemplify, Illustrate. They are the 4 simple steps to help you understand a concept and explain it to someone else.
This simple tool, that is part of the critical thinkers’ arsenal, can improve your life because it gives you the formula for what makes a great webinar or a great sales letter or a blog post or a SlideShare presentation or a funding deck or anything else you’d use to let others know that you deserve a truckload of cash because you can solve their problems or make them more money.
So, here are the 4 steps you need to follow to clearly communicate your ideas:
First of all, you need to STATE what is the concept, the idea. This shouldn’t be longer than 2 sentences or 30-40 words. And yes, you’ll have to distil the thing you want to explain to its essence. This will also help you understand it better.
“An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced small coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon”.
This is where you add more flesh to your initial statement. You can guide your own thinking by starting with “in other words, …” and then add what feels right to ELABORATE. It’s important to use your own words to so don’t make things more difficult than they should be, especially with concepts who are by default more difficult to explain.
“In other words, an atoll is an island formed by the biotic growth of coral on which the dry land represents just a small portion of its total surface, its centre being a shallow lagoon. “
Use as many examples as you need to give people the chance to discover a pattern that connects them, or to describe situations in which the concept you’re describing applies.
“You can find atolls by looking at the maps of the Maldives, the Tuamotu Islands, the Chagos Archipelago, Tuvalu”.
The easiest way to ILLUSTRATE what you’re talking about is to use pictures, videos, diagrams. For concepts that can’t actually be represented in a photo or a video, use analogies and metaphors that your audience can understand.
A very important thing to remember when explaining things to people is to adapt your content to your reader or listener or customer’s level of understanding.
WIRED did a few great videos for their YouTube channel in which they have experts explaining a concept from their field to people of different ages and levels of understanding.
If you’re creating an online course, for example, you should know who are you designing it for – because if your students will be both people who have no idea what you’re talking about and people who know just a little less than you do, you risk losing their attention (and their money, LOL). If your level of difficulty satisfies the ‘almost-experts’, the ‘newbies’ won’t be able to follow what you’re saying because they don’t yet know enough. If it’s the other way around, the ‘almost-experts’ won’t get any value out of it. The best solution, in this case, is to focus on just one target or have to different courses.
The second thing I hope you’ll remember about the SEEI technique is that you can play around with the order of these steps if it makes it easier for you to explain things in a particular setting. Never stick to a formula that isn’t working perfectly for you.
Being able to clearly explain your ideas to the world can make you so much money. You can use this skill to create courses, content for your marketing efforts, develop new products, better brief your team, write more effective sales letters and business proposals.
I hope you’ll be kind enough to give me a few minutes of your time and let me know in the comments below to what areas of your business or career you could apply these steps to with the best results? Where can it really help you to be able to explain things better?