Ode to clarity

13-09_supercommunicator_comps_1bSimplicity isn’t everyone’s friend. I find this true with engineers and scientists who argue that public relations schlocks like to distill their ideas to a point where they’re no longer recognizable. That’s not good. If we dumb down everything too much, we’re left with nothing but superficial banter stripped of meaning. Simplicity can be a double-edged sword.

Effective communications help audiences see complicated topics more clearly. They reveal realities that have been obscured by veils of complexity. Use your presentation, graphic, or text to unravel the mystery. Help your audience see patterns they couldn’t visualize on their own. Flag important points covered up by jargon or specialized language. Bring to the surface essential facts that may be lost in a block of extraneous detail.

Integrity matters. You never want to simplify anything to the point where you alter the meaning of your message. This is especially true in cases where audiences need specific information and key facts can’t be eliminated. For example, if you were explaining new audit methodologies to a group of auditors, it would be disastrous if you glossed over details that are pertinent to their jobs. Following generally accepted auditing standards (GAAS) isn’t a suggestion—it’s an imperative for anyone working in that field. Trainers who work with auditors to comprehend new standards and requirements must be focused on making content more comprehensible without omitting crucial steps.

Simplicity vs. clarity

Simplicity and clarity are similar in many ways, but different in other ways. The take-away here is that your job is to make content more accessible. Once again, it’s essential to “know thy audience.” Is your audience like the Indian farmers? They’ll be able to get along without understanding the technology behind cellular communication. Or is your audience more like the auditors? They need to know about new standards in requirements or they won’t be able to do their jobs.
When to simplify and when to clarify are judgment calls you the communicator need to make. The more you understand your audience and the better you understand your topic, the more likely you’ll be able to know when to simplify and when to clarify.

This is the second piece in a series excerpted with permission from the book Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated So Anyone Can UnderstandSee the first part of the series here.

Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated So Anyone Can Understand
by Frank J. Pietrucha
© 2014 Frank J. Pietrucha
All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books
Division of American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019


Frank Pietrucha

Frank Pietrucha

Frank J. Pietrucha has over 25 years of experience helping scientists, engineers, economists, and leaders in business and government make challenging topics clear and meaningful to non-specialists. As president of Definitive Communications, his clients range from NASA and The United States Department of State to digital startups. He lives in Washington, DC.

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