Have you ever tried explaining something to someone only to receive a confused look in return?
It’s incredibly frustrating.
For both parties.
But it’s also fairly common. We’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of this situation. It’s awkward. It can lead to poor feelings on both sides. It’s just not good when it happens.
You can’t control the way others explain things to you. But you can control the way you explain things to others.
Here are a few tips for improving your explanation skills…
1. Gauge Interest Level
This is the biggest factor in explanation communication.
Does the person on the receiving end want to listen to the explanation?
If there are issues with your explanations, odds are pretty good that you’re telling people information they don’t want to hear. It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. And if you’re looking for a solution the best answer may be to reassess the topics you’re discussing.
My daughter is still a toddler, but I’ve been looking into the learning process for kids. I’m curious about how she’s going to want to develop before school and then heading into school. More and more, studies are showing that kids thrive when they’re able to guide their own education. Obviously there are basics to learn. But in the long run, it’s almost always better for each person to control themselves.
Think back to your own education… You might have had a wonderful teacher in a certain subject. You might have looked around to see other people enthralled with the lecture. But for the life of you it wasn’t possible to maintain attention.
It wasn’t the teacher’s fault. It wasn’t your fault. It simply wasn’t interesting to you.
When we struggle with conversation it’s often because we focus on what we want to explain. Even if you’re not the greatest at explaining things, you’re more likely to find the right words when the person listening is interesting in learning.
They’re asking questions. They’re telling you to repeat things. They have patience. They encourage you.
2. Goldilocks Details
Sharing details in explanations is an art. The more I’ve tried to explain things to people the more I’ve realized this fact. It changes by topic. It changes by person. You just have to learn to get a feel for the conversation and take its cues.
In general, though, it’s safe to assume that you’re aiming for a medium amount of details in most explanations.
However, one of the traps with this general rule is that if you’re really passionate about the topic, you’re probably going to be naturally high on the details you can share. To you, it will feel normal. Depending on the other person, it will feel like way too much.
So for things you’re passionate about, reel back on the details to what seems like a small amount.
For example, one of my passions in golf. In most conversations, I know that I need to reel back on the number of details. Even with other golfers I usually try to pull back on the details. Non-golfers might want to know that I enjoy golf and maybe the last course I played. A fellow golfer may want those details along with my handicap and what I recently shot.
Just about nobody will want to hear a recap of every shot I took that day on the course.
The same goes for if you’re explaining how to change a flat tire, how to cook a pork roast, etc.
One of the tricks that works really well when explaining something is to share a personal story.
When doing this, you’re going to want to follow the other tips here. Mainly, don’t overshare on the details. Stick with the normal amount of details and conversation length for the setting.
If the person shows interest in you and a topic you’ve mentioned, that’s an opening to share a story. Perhaps one that is just a minute or two. If they ask followup questions, perhaps you can go into more detail.
The great thing about a story is that you’re not laying out steps for how to do something. It’s less about the how-to and more about the full experience. And the listener is able to take their own lessons from your story.
For example, let’s say you’re talking about gardening. The person is interesting. You have a garden. They’re new to it. You can share a story about how you planted a garden last spring. Just talk about the process and what happened.
If they are still interested you can share a story about a time that you were weeding the garden in the summer. Or the story about the day you did the harvesting.
4. Goldilocks Pacing
When we’re passionate about something we tend to talk fast. It’s natural. It’s okay. But sometimes when you’re going too fast the person listening gets frustrated. Then they ask you to repeat things and if you’re not careful you can get frustrated and the entire conversation can fall off the rails.
It can also go the other way. You can compensate too much and lag with the conversation. Or you may just be a naturally slow speaker. Not that you’re unintelligent or anything like that. Some of us are just naturally slow speakers. That’s fine. Being aware of it is a good thing.
In either case, it brings us to the final tip…
There is no substitute for practice. When it comes to explaining things to people or having a conversation in general, the more you do it, the better you’ll be.
But that even comes with a big caveat. Because we all know someone (probably multiple) that get a lot of experience explaining things to people, but they never get very good at it. They kind of talk at people and railroad the conversation and they do it so much that they drive people away.
Practice isn’t just about quantity, although that is important. It’s about having a focus on improvement. It’s about identifying something to work on (like the tips in this post) and then practicing those things.
When you start explaining something to someone, pay attention to what’s happening. It’s okay if it doesn’t go well at first. You can make some quick improvements with proper practice.
It’s good to want to be better at explaining things. Better conversation leads to better relationships. It leads to better outcomes in both professional and personal settings. When we’re better something it builds confidence. It builds success. I think this is one of the overlooked areas of the world today. Those that become proficient will really stand out in the coming years.