“The height of sophistication is simplicity."
-- Clare Boothe Luce
Recently, I came across two educators lecturing on the same topic. As I watched the video for each of their sessions, it was obvious that, while both were brilliant, knowledgeable individuals, only one was a communicator. It all boiled down to the level of ease by which I (and the live audience) could
understand their main points and supporting materials. One read his lecture from his notes, which the audience silently absorbed, while the other cracked jokes between mind-blowing details that engaged his audience.
Today's communication law is the Law of Simplicity. I have to confess that because I am an educated, well-read learner, I have a vibrant vocabulary and a deep well of facts and theories swirling around in my head. I have to be very intentional in communication to connect with my audience. As John Maxwell says, "No matter your audience -- whether they're farmers, entrepreneurs, parents, managers, service industry workers, technicians, voters, artists, or students -- they want to be engaged. They want to understand you easily and be able to do something positive with what you tell them."
Three Stages of Communication
"Being simplistic is ignoring the genuine complexity of a problem or situation and offering a too-easy solution."
Being simplistic in our communications indicates that we haven't taken the time to think about our topic or find a good answer. Often, our communication comes out in cliches or oversimplified phrases that are neither helpful nor meaningful to our audience.
This is the first stage of any communication topic. It can be summarized as:
Shallow and fast
Asks no questions
Embraces popular thought
Offers ineffective solutions
Most topics that we communicate on are, at their core, complex, and it takes a lot of thought and hard work to ask questions, decipher information, and formulate ideas. But unless your audience has done all this work with you, it will likely be tough for them to follow your communication if it remains at this stage.
"Working hard to get below the simplistic and wrestle with the complex takes time and energy. But the reward is wonderful. Having a eureka moment of understanding is fantastic. Taking that eureka and expressing it simply is even more rewarding."
This stage can be summarized as:
Deep and slow
Asks many questions
Embraces sustained thought
Offers complicated solutions
"The reward for digging into complex problems and ideas and coming out the other side with a simple way to express them is turning muddled teaching into crystal clear communication."
If you put in the effort to work through the complex stage, you will have answers to your questions, different perspectives, and possibilities and be confident and focused on your topic. This is the stage where you can connect with your audience.
This stage can be summarized as:
Deep and fast
Answers many questions
Embraces proven thought
Offers elegant solutions
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." -- Albert Einstein
Three Goals of Communication
Not everyone is willing to create simple communication, but if you want to be a great communicator, you will need to put in the hard work of this law. To help you learn to simplify your message, your communication should achieve these three goals.
"Your first goal as you prepare to communicate is to make what you say crystal clear." This clarity should come in the form of:
Clear information: you've done your homework and know your material inside and out; you're not afraid of unexpected questions.
Clear structure: your communication should be like a road map, taking your audience on a journey, not a bungee jump.
Clear language: as C.S. Lewis once wrote, "If you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were too confused."
"It's not the number of words you use; it's the impact you make with the words you use." Selecting the right words to keep your communication clear and concise takes hard work. But you'll find that if you can achieve this goal effectively, your audience will stay engaged and remember your message.
"Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful." When you are communicating in a short and sweet way for your audience, you want to make sure that you trim anything that might distract from your message, be redundant, or muddle your words.
As you apply the Law of Simplicity, remember:
Less is more.
Clarity is power.
Clear is kind.
Everything must be as simple as possible.
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it.
Stop trying to impress the audience.
Start helping your audience.
Get to your point before people start asking, "What's the point?"
Say what's important over again.
Say it simply, say it slowly, say it with a smile.
This week, answer these questions:
What is your experience with this law?
How can you apply these goals to your communication?