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Storytelling — June 19, 2014 at 2:58 pm

The Art of Explanation


explanationIf you work for a charity you likely have thought at some point, “If people knew what we were doing, they’d be so excited that they’d empty out their wallets!” Or at least some variation of that. If people just understood your cause, they’d jump onboard.

So why don’t they? The most obvious reason is that they haven’t heard about your cause. But even if they have, they might not understand what your organization is really about, especially not the way you do.

This can be a frustrating gap. Chip and Dan Heath, in their excellent book Made to Stick, call this the “curse of knowledge.” You have too much knowledge of your own cause to be able to see it from an outsider perspective, and because of this you to have a few blind spots when communicating your cause.

First you need to recognize this problem: you are not your audience. But then what do you do? This is where Lee LeFever comes in. Lee is the founder of Common Craft, an organization most famous for its simple “explainer” videos. Here’s an example:

That’s Lee narrating the video. Lee has a skill that is so subtle you might not notice it on first viewing: he’s an explainer. Explanation is something that sounds easy, but actually takes a lot of practice to pull off. And it’s an essential skill that can help you further your cause and your marketing.

Lee shares how he developed this skill in his book The Art of Explanation. In it, he teaches readers how to develop the skill of explanation, including tips for packaging ideas and understanding your audience.

Each of Common Craft’s explainer videos is at the end of the day a story, using a common storyline which breaks down like this:

“Meet Bob, he has a problem and feels pain
He discovers a solution and tries it
Now he feels happy
Don’t you want to feel like Bob?”

As simple as those four plot points seem, they create an essential structure for explanations. Building on that storyline, explanations use connections with the audience, simple language (re: no jargon), and visuals to convey ideas. The book digs into each of these with much greater detail, walking readers step by step through the process of creating a fully realized explanation.

I highly recommend The Art of Explanation to anyone who’s job it is to communicate a cause, a product, or a service.

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