Breaking down complex information and ideas into bite-sized pieces that can be easily digested by most people is not easy.
If you’re the author of a book on a topic such as science, mathematics, academic research, technology, medicine, or anything else that requires an advanced degree to do and understand, then chances are you’re going to have to find a way to talk about your material in a simpler form.
Some call this process “dumbing down” which I find rather jarring and offensive. If one is not familiar with a particular scope of work or body of knowledge, then they’re not familiar with its language and concepts. It’s not that the person isn’t smart; it’s simply that they’re not familiar with it.
Simplicity is not the same as dumbing down. It is about making the content accessible.
In addition, the idea of “dumbing down” sounds like it would be easy to do, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Another way to think of this is to consider someone who takes four pages to convey an idea and is then told he or she has to convey the same information in one paragraph. Challenging, right? Very.
Many interviews are based on complex information. Think about how many stories are in the news about scientific breakthroughs, academic research, technological advancements and healthcare improvements.
Authors must be able to not only simplify ideas without being misunderstood or losing the audience, but usually time is short and there is a lot of pressure to “do it right.” (This is one reason I love providing media training for authors. When they can do this well, they really shine during interviews.)
Below are some important tips on how you can make this adjustment to reach a far bigger audience:
Show what it means to others
The key when explaining anything complicated is to show what it actually means to people. Let’s say an author is discussing how 6 technologies are now converging and maturing at the same time, as is the case with my client Steve Brown and his book, The Innovation Ultimatum.
The target market for this book is business owners and executives. He needs to make it clear how this wave of technology coming to fruition right now will help them. Will it change their business model? Will it save them time? Make specific tasks easier? Remove stress? Build profits? Help the business to continue to thrive as the future charges forward? Embrace the future without fear?
By turning the subject around so that it focuses on business people and what matters to them, the audience is able to form a connection with what is being said. Whatever your book is about, you must do this.
Spending time telling us in detail about your book and the information it contains isn’t going to make us sit up and take note – in fact, it may bore people so they tune out. However, showing how it will impact the listener, viewer, or reader in a very individualized way very well may be the compelling factor that will make them listen and take action — like buying your book!
The power of examples is everything, and they are even more important when discussing complex topics. Tell stories that will aid the audience’s understanding and provide a context for what is being discussed.
Everyday examples are best, but even visualization and fictional stories can be useful. Metaphors, similes, and any comparisons that help the audience to understand what you’re trying to convey can make all the difference.
People love hearing stories, so telling them in an interview to illustrate your point will make your audience sit up and pay attention. I suggest having one story for each key message you’re going to deliver, keeping in mind that the length of the interview will also determine how many stories you have time to tell.
Know the details to leave out
When you’ve been enthusiastically working hard on a book, it can be easy to believe that every detail is crucial. However, an author discussing a complex subject needs to be able to self-edit. What you don’t say can almost be as important as the points you deliver.
There are details which are very important to you, the author, and will be to the reader too, once you get them hooked and reading your book, but as you’re delivering an interview, too many details can complicate the story and can make it very hard for you to get back on track during interviews. Trust me on this. During the middle of an interview is not when you want to learn this.
Determine what points are most important and leave out the rest. Boil it down to the bare minimum. If you’re too close to your own material, get some help to identify the most important pieces and leave the rest out.
As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Watch the language
Long, technical words might appear impressive, but they don’t help the audience understand what is being said.
And if the audience has to stop and wonder what a certain word or phrase means, then they are very quickly going to become lost and not hear your next point. It can also make an author seem aloof and out of touch with the audience.
Aim instead to use the same language you would use if you were talking to a friend or family member or even a child.
If you really can’t avoid using a technical term, or one inadvertently slips out, make sure you immediately explain what it means. Say something like ‘and what that really means is…’ and then explain it.
Take your time
You are excited by your work and your book. That’s great. But some people fall into the trap of allowing their enthusiasm and excitement to dictate their speed of speech, and that can be the kiss of death. If people have to work too hard to try to keep up with you, they won’t. In print interviews, it can lead to being misquoted. Better for you to learn to slow down.
While enthusiasm is important and you certainly want to have great energy during any interview, you must remember to slow down. Learning to speak slowly while showing energy and enthusiasm is another great reason for media training because it usually doesn’t come naturally. It is a learned skill.
Nervous authors talking about complex subjects often have a tendency to ramble.
But long, rambling answers are hard for both the media person and the audience to follow and there is a risk they may be harshly edited, misinterpreted, or abandoned altogether (in a print interview). The aim is to keep answers clear and concise.
In a print interview, authors can provide a brief summary of their main message at the end of the interview. This can help the journalist to understand where you think the focus should be – particularly useful if you have been discussing a broad subject.
During an interview on camera or on mic, a summary is also helpful so the listener or viewer has those all important “take aways.” (A “take away” is a media term meaning a kernel of information a listener, reader, or viewer walks away with following an interview.) It’s also a chance for you to repeat your most important key message.
You can do this. Put the reader, listener, or viewer first and remember that you are there to help them. Make it simple.
To your success!
P.S. Media training can help you to come across well from the very beginning of your outreach. You can learn it on your own, of course, but you don’t really want to be the person at the end of a campaign to say, “OK, now I understand how this works. Let’s go.” But it’s over. Be great from the beginning.