Explain things simply
Simplify written and verbal communication to improve signal.
You’ll occasionally come across someone who talks (or writes) a lot — but says very little.
For example — this sentence:
I have a deep passion for regularly spearheading holistic and authentic peer-to-peer tech-enabled events for a wide array of extensive professionals in the commerce, technology, and financial markets space, including venture-backed founders, institutional buy-side financial professionals, and high-performing business people, to facilitate investment deal-flow, foster mutually beneficial business connections, and generate other synergistic opportunities.
(Don’t you want to bash your head into a wall?)
Can be translated into:
I organize parties for entrepreneurs, investors, and business people.
Sometimes, less is more, and shorter, direct statements are more impactful. This can be true for both written or spoken prose.
Explaining things simply, and communicating concepts well is a massively underrated skill in today’s business environment.
School teaches us that more = better, and as a result, we’ve learned to minimize white-space and maximize word count. But in reality — we face real constraints like limited headspace, time, and attention.
Aim to maximize signal — minimize noise.
Here are 5 ideas I’ve learned over the course of my career on how to explain things more simply:
🙇♀️ Explain Like I’m Five (ELI5)
It’s a phenomenon originating from Reddit (r/ExplainLikeImFive), to allow people to get simple answers to ambiguous concepts, that a five year old could understand.
For example, one of the top questions is: “How can nothing be faster than light when speed is only relative?”. Here’s the answer.
The practice of ELI5 forces one to break down any concept in the simplest form possible — simple enough that a child could understand. This requires a deep understanding of the concept, in order to break it down to first principles.
Always aim to ELI5. Use simple language, an active voice, simple adverbs and adjectives, and simple sentence structures. Tools like Hemingway let you accomplish this.
🦥 Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR)
TL;DR is another internet shorthand originated from the meme web, used to summarize longer pieces of information. Frankly, it doesn’t get enough credit as it sounds a little more passive aggressive than it’s meant to, but it’s a tool we use often at work.
The intention is to simplify a densely worded article or complex concept.
Next time you explain something via writing or speaking, ask yourself:
What are the 1-3 key points I need to get across?
Then only communicate those points. The rest can be included in a follow-up.
🗣️ Surround yourself with good explainers and bullsh*t callers
By now, we’re familiar with the age-old wisdom that you’re deeply influenced by your environment and the people you surround yourself with.
If the goal is to improve your ability to explain things well (and simply), hang around people who:
Will call you out and challenge you on bullsh*t explanations
Explain things well
You’ll start to think through what you say (or write) more intentionally, and over time, will calibrate yourself to this higher standard.
I’m thankful to have friends that constantly challenge me.
Yesterday, a close friend and I had a two-hour dialogue on the value of NFTs, that forced me to understand these concepts at a first-principles level, and explain them to someone outside this domain.
All this was prompted by a “WTF is an NFT?” and “Why are you spending so much $ on a picture of a tomato?” (Hi Meet)
I’m also surrounded by great communicators. Good explainers have really clear, structured, and consistent frameworks for how they speak and write:
How to write effectively by Dickie Bush
1-3-1 Writing format for concise writing by Nicolas Cole
Principles of good writing by Sahil Bloom
📎 Use the SEE-I Method
SEE-I is a framework for explaining ideas, which stands for State, Elaborate, Exemplify, Illustrate.
Here’s how it works:
State it: State the idea clearly, in a few sentences or less.
Elaborate: Explain the idea further in your own words. Elaborate on the concept in a paragraph or less.
Exemplify: Provide concrete examples (and counter-examples, if necessary).
Illustrate: Summarize with a visual, diagram, metaphor, or analogy.
When it doubt, use this simple framework.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
— Albert Einstein
Appreciation & Support
These articles take effort. If you genuinely enjoyed it, I’d appreciate if you could share with a friend (that’s how I grow this newsletter). If you didn’t, I’d love some feedback.
I’m also pretty active on Twitter. I post half-baked ideas, frameworks, and thoughts there.
Are you the Andrew Yeung who used to work for WSJ. If so, please contact me. Cindy.Rogers@mail.house.gov. We communicated in early 2020 just before the pandemic. Thanks.