Don’t Dumb Things Down for the Sake of Clarity

Christopher Witt —  February 12, 2013

Clarifying is good. Confusing is bad. Dumbing down is, well, dumb.

The first rule of public speaking or presenting (and, for that matter, of any form of communication) is: Be clear. But you don’t have to dumb things down to clarify them.

Instead of dumbing things down you can:

  • Simplify, define, illustrate, or demonstrate them.
  • Tell a story, use an analogy, provide a chronology, or run people through a sequence of events.
  • Break complex issues into their constituent parts or categories and show how they are related.
  • Present charts and graphs and videos.
  • Compare and contrast items, or assess their relative strenghts and weaknesses.
You can clarify issues without dumbing them down

Lord Jim at Flickr.com

In short, there are a lot of ways to make your ideas clear without dumbing them down.

When you confuse people, you lose their attention, interest, and willingness to cooperate with whatever you’re proposing.

But when you dumb things down, you insult people’s intelligence, maturity, and professionalism.

I don’t know about you, but I resent people who talk as if I’m too stupid to understand them. I’ll happily admit that I’m ignorant. I expect presenters to know more than I do about the topic they’re addressing: if I already knew it all, there would be no reason for me to attend. But I appreciate people who respect and sometimes even challenge my intelligence.

So here’s my suggestion: Speak as if people are 1) ignorant (more or less) of what you’re talking about, but 2) intelligent enough to understand complex ideas when they are clearly explained. Be clear, maybe even intellectually challenging, but never dumb.

 

 

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.