Ask your nearest five-year-old to explain the complex issues of the day, and the answers may surprise you. Lack of worldly context notwithstanding, the language and thought process used by young children can teach us a lot about how we explain social problems and the solutions we advocate for. The next time you find yourself struggling to connect with your audience, try putting yourself in the position of explaining the subject matter to a five-year-old. Here are five ways it will help:
Simplify your language You don’t need to treat every audience like they are children, but thinking through messaging by imagining a group of young children as your audience will immediately eliminate un-relatable jargon and bring those multi-syllabic words down to simple language that is easy to remember and easy to repeat.
Relate to your audience The hardest thing about having a conversation with a five-year-old is recalibrating your own perspective to match theirs. Themes, issues and concepts that are commonplace for you and your peers are lost on young ears, so you are forced to model their perspective, using phrases and language they can relate to. When preparing public communication about a complex issue, it is a valuable exercise to think, and re-think how your audience relates to the words and phrases you are using.
Get out of your own way Knowledge and experience typically has an inverse relationship to clear communications. The longer we spend in a field and increase our level of expertise on an issue, the less capable we are at clearly articulating that issue to an outside audience. Five-year-olds rarely care about your years of experience. They just want to know what you are talking about. Practice putting all those years of experience to the side and focusing on the key, central messages that can be clearly, succinctly articulated.
Turn the Tables on Yourself If you find it hard to explain a complex issue to a five-year-old, ask them to explain it to you. How would a five-year-old explain immigration? People who move. How would a five-year-old explain healthcare? Helping sick people get better. Returning ourselves to the core of an issue can be surprisingly hard for us to do as adults, but children are immediately drawn to these simple explanations. Through their eyes, we can find new angles to pursue in our communications.
Tell a story There is no better communications tool than a well-crafted story. It is natural for us to use this ancient technique with our youngest audiences, but when it comes to communicating with adults, we often forget the classic art of storytelling. Finding the beginning, middle and end of your story arch will capture the attention of audiences ages five to 105.
The next time you find yourself struggling to connect with an audience, or you are unsure about why your communications aren’t resonating with the intended audience, think about consulting your nearest five-year-old. For these reasons and more, it may be the most valuable conversation you will have about your issue.
Shaun Adamec is a communications professional, crisis planning expert, and recovering political operative. He is President and Founder of Adamec Communications, which helps those who seek to change the world find their voice.