Earlier this week, I was pitching to a prospective client. Despite English not being her first language, she seemed to be following me quite comfortably. Everything was going smoothly until I used a word with which she was not familiar. Our eye-contact was momentarily broken as she leaned toward her associate for translation. I paused to allow for this before giving my own clarification, as I had planned to do. She quickly understood and the rest of the pitch went very well.
Always reflect on your performance, regardless of the result
Although the pitch was a great success, there is a lesson to be learned from that brief moment of ambiguity. I had anticipated that some words might need explaining. And I had clear explanations ready. The mistake I made was holding the explanation until after the fact. I allowed there to be a break in communication which could have been prevented.
Prevention is better than cure
In the brief moment my client was unsure what I meant, the presentation lost some of it’s momentum. Sure, I explained and we promptly got back on track. But we needn’t have encountered that road bump in the first place. There are two ways I could have prevented that temporary disconnect:
- Use a word the listener is more likely familiar with; or
- Pre-teach the meaning of the word
If you must insist on using a particular word, give the audience the concept first. Once your audience understands the new concept, they’ll be ready to hear the name for it.
3 ways to explain a new concept
Link the new concept to one your audience already understands.
“You know (X; familiar concept)? Well, (insert new word) is like (X) for (Y; the difference).”
Suppose, for example, someone asks you what Linked In is. You could explain all of it’s features and what you use it for. Or instead, you could simply say that it’s “like Facebook, but for business”. Likewise, you could explain Upwork as “Uber for digital services”. X for Y analogies are an elegant and simple way of introducing new concepts.
You can also provide clarity through contrast. Knowing what something is not can help to define what it is. Like Yin and Yang, each becomes clearer in the presence of the other.
Which is more powerful?
“Complaining won’t help you succeed.”
“Losers make excuses and complain; Winners shut up and play the game.”
You can also explain new concepts with stories, demonstrations and examples that illustrate the principle in action. Hence the story I shared with you at the beginning.
The key is to show before you tell. Put understanding before knowledge. Put concepts before words. Your audience will thank you for it.