How To Be Better At Explaining Things

You’re at a party, and someone cracks an inside joke with you, and you dissolve in laughter. Suddenly everyone’s, asking what the joke is all about: and you stammer as you try to explain the context and story, but you stretch it, and it falls flat. Laughter dwindles as people awkwardly smile and walk away as you realize you ruined the moment. 

Alright, maybe failing to explain things well isn’t always this dramatic: but it is definitely a vital part of your communication skills. 

Consider who you’re talking to

It makes a big difference to know who your audience is. The same story has to be told differently to your co-workers, friends, and family. Especially if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with somebody, think about what they’ll be most familiar with and relate to. 

Since explaining things often involves using many metaphors, always use metaphors closest to home for the person you’re talking to. If you’re simplifying something for a child, compare the situation to something they’d experience at school. 

Suppose you have to explain why you’re shifting to a bigger city. Here are some examples of how your language might change with different people.

To your parents: “I think I’d be happier when I shift to NYC, it’ll be better for my career, and I’ll get to meet like-minded people! A bird’s gotta leave the nest, right?” 

To your colleagues or people in a professional setting, “I’m beginning to get creatively limited in my current job. I’m sure I’ll be able to unleash my full potential and have exposure to more learning and growth opportunities once I make the move.” 

To your friends, “I feel stifled in this town; I’ve been here all my life. I’m bored of everything here. I want excitement and adventure so I can find my true purpose.” 

To a child, “Just like when you graduated from elementary school to middle school, it’s time for me to go to a bigger city and get a better job!”

It’s not about using the best vocabulary to sound eloquent when you want to explain yourself efficiently. What is far more critical is that the person you’re speaking to understands what you’re saying. 

Listen and answer questions.

A promising sign that someone is listening to you or trying to understand is that they’ll ask questions. If somebody asks you to clarify or question the reason behind something: don’t get annoyed. Most of the time, they’re not trying to make you look stupid but are genuinely showing interest in what you’re talking about. 

In fact, you should often encourage questions from people while explaining something. If it’s too much of an informal setting to say, “Do you have any questions or concerns?” then ask more indirect questions. 

“Does that make sense to you?” 

“Have you ever experienced something like this?” 

“What do you think?” 

All these questions grab your listener’s attention and make sure that they’ll tell you if they’re not on the same page. 

Remember when your school teachers would ask you questions to make sure you were paying attention in class? It’s the same theory: asking questions to your listeners is a great way to make sure they aren’t zoning out. It can make them be alert and let you know if they’re at all confused.

Notice non-verbal signals

It’s easy to notice when people aren’t understanding what you’re talking about or have gotten distracted. 

Most people’s eyes will glaze over as if it’s out of focus. Or they’ll start nodding their head once in a while but keep glancing away. This is a good sign that they’re either losing interest or can’t follow your explanation. Some people’s eyebrows might slightly twitch as if they’re about to frown. This is also an indicator of confusion.

As soon as you see these signs, ask them a question, as we mentioned in the last point. Consider adding in some humor to regain their attention.

Make eye contact with your listeners. Making direct eye contact makes a person feel like they matter and that you’re not speaking out loud to the walls. Since you’re looking right at them, they’re almost forced to pay attention and try to understand. 

Use emotion

No matter who you’re talking to, all humans can relate to base emotions. If you’re explaining a very detailed story or a complicated situation, make it personal by talking about how you felt. 

Using emotion doesn’t just mean telling the person how angry or upset you were, but also weaving in positive emotions like ambition, excitement, and motivation. Next time you’re pitching an idea in a boardroom, don’t be afraid to show how passionate you are about the idea. Use your hands and be more expressive in your tone of voice. 

Don’t spend too much time on context.

We all get caught up in this mistake. We want our listeners to really understand the situation as well as we do, so we launch into the story of establishing context. We start narrating backstories for a long time before we even get to the action. 

The danger of this is that it’s unorganized. In real life, events often happen simultaneously and have to be explained from multiple perspectives. It’s easy for you to understand because you experienced it, but to a third person, it may feel like a long and winding tale. They might stop you in the middle (before you get to the important bit) because they don’t see what it’s got to do with them.

Explaining things efficiently involves a lot of editing. It’s just as important to edit out the unimportant pieces of information. 

Remember that it’s much better to first tell them about the action, and then take questions. If they’re confused about the context, they’ll ask, and you can always go back and explain. A lot of movies these days follow this plotline! In fact, reverse chronology can pique their interest.

Final Words

Hopefully, these techniques have given you some pointers on how to communicate more effectively by explaining things. 

Try to be more aware of how you communicate every time you’re given an opportunity to explain something. Notice how other people respond to you, and try to see if you can figure out some new techniques for effective explanation from the people around you!