“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
You’re in a business meeting and your client asks you a question that requires a fairly detailed explanation, say about, why there’s a discrepancy in the growth figures in their investment valuation report.
Or, your colleague asks you if you can explain to them how a piece of software works.
Or, you’re giving a presentation and a member of the audience asks you if you can explain a technical point that you raised in one of your slides.
Oh…and you need to explain these above situations in English.
But first, let me ask you…
Are you good at explaining things in your first language (L1)?
How often have you found yourself trying hard to explain a theory or procedure that is very clear in your mind but when it comes to explaining it out loud, it sounds incredibly confusing to your listener?
Being able to explain complex issues or topics in a clear and simple way is not easy. And yet, if you want to be a successful business communicator, learning how to explain things clearly and simply is important.
I remember early in my career as an investment salesperson, I had to explain complex investment strategies to my clients who were not necessarily sophisticated investors.
It was important that I explain the risks and strategies to them, especially as they were entrusting substantial amounts of money to my company and they needed to feel comfortable with the decisions they’d made.
I had to learn how to explain things in a way that was clear and simple, but that at the same time didn’t patronise (treat them like children) my clients who were successful businesspeople in their own right.
But it wasn’t easy because the more simple I tried to make my explanation, the more words I’d use (too many) which would only confuse my clients even more!
So, I needed to find a way to make my explanations easier and clearer.
The best way I found was to write out my explanation. Writing allowed me to get my thoughts clear and that meant ensuring I knew my subject well. For example, if I was going to talk about value investing I needed to make sure I knew the subject inside out before trying to explain it.
What methods have you used that have helped you?
As I was researching and preparing for this lesson, I thought about what good tips there are on how to improve our ability to explain things.
5 Tips To Improve Giving Explanations
Here are some tips I found which I think are very helpful for practising giving explanations both in your first language and in English.
Tip1: Focus on making your thinking clear.
One of the reasons we often cannot explain things clearly is because our thinking is not clear.
I agree with this because I’ve seen this when coaching my clients on presentations and job interview preparation.
And this is what my problem was early in my financial career. My thinking wasn’t clear and structured. No wonder I couldn’t explain myself!
Tip 2: Try and write what you want to explain.
You may find that what you want to explain is not clear so writing it makes you structure your thoughts. Writing most definitely will make your thinking clearer because you’re giving yourself the time to think.
Tip 3: Pay attention to your listener
While explaining, pay attention to the facial expressions of your listener. If they are looking confused, use this feedback to change your explaining. Don’t keep talking without looking at your listener/audience.
Tip 4: Tell a story or give examples to make things easier to understand.
Tip 5: Write it and record it!
What you think you said initially and what you actually communicated to others can be different so it’s worth trying this technique out.
I think this is an excellent idea. So many times I think I’ve been crystal clear only to find my listener looking at me blankly.
Perhaps what is in our head doesn’t necessarily translate literally into our spoken language?
Why not try these tips out and let me know if any of them work?
Ok, so you’ve got these tips and you’re ready to explain away in English.
14 English phrases to help you make those explanations even clearer.
These phrases are often used as what I call ‘signposts’. They help you guide your listener. They also give the explanations the cause (reason) and effect (result).
Explanations often link cause (reason) and effect (result). For example:
I was late for the meeting (result) because the traffic was terrible (cause).
14 English Phrases To Help Explain Things
It could well be that the formula we’ve been using to calculate investment risk is not accurate enough.
The reason for the late start to the meeting was because of today’s tube strike.
One possible explanation/reason for the fall in profits could be the weakness of sterling against the US dollar.
Let me explain, if we were to implement the changes too soon, we’d have a huge problem on our hands.
The most likely reason they chose those suppliers was to reduce cost.
What I mean is, I don’t think we’ll get the necessary funding this year.
This has been a much-needed wake-up call. In other words, it’s been a warning that was needed.
Let me put it/this another way, if we don’t accept their proposals now, they’ll go somewhere else/elsewhere.
Let me deal with the second point first, that is to say, the point about logistics.
The thing is, there’s no simple explanation to what went wrong.
Seeing as/that everyone is here, I think it’d be a good idea to tell you what’s happened.
As/since (formal) the goods were damaged on arrival, I’m returning them in this package.
Let me give you another example,….
For example/ for instance, if you were to test the market now, you’d see there isn’t any demand for our product in its present form.
Over to you
Make a note of these phrases.
Now try and explain something to me and share it in the comments box. Try and use some of the expressions above. I’ll give you feedback.
Look for examples of explanations. These could be written (news articles) or spoken (documentaries, news programmes, podcast)
Observe the language the person uses to explain something. Have they used any of the expressions above? How have they used them? Make a note of these expressions (the whole sentence).
Try and explain something. Do it first in writing using some of the above expressions. Remember writing will help clarify your thoughts.
Then record yourself (try not to read out)
Listen back and see if your explanation is similar to what you had in your mind.
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I can’t wait to welcome you.
Ciao for now
PS Thanks to Mary Sousa for giving me the idea for this blog post.