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Thinking Template - 8 minute read

How to explain a concept clearly and concisely

By Nigel Manson

This article is part of a series focused on how to introduce, explain, and condense complex thinking into a single-page view so that other people can easily understand you.

Definition of a Concept

Understanding the meaning of a concept is crucial when attempting to explain complex ideas or communicate technical concepts effectively. A concept can be defined as an abstract or general idea that is derived from specific instances or occurrences. 

In other words, a concept definition is: a mental representation or understanding of something that exists in reality, whether it's a physical object, a process, knowledge or an abstract notion.

Explaining Concepts

When it comes to explaining complex concepts, it's essential to break them down into smaller, more manageable parts. This approach allows the audience to grasp the individual components before piecing them together to form a clear understanding of the bigger picture

For example, when explaining a complicated business model to a group of investors, it's helpful to start by defining the key concepts involved, such as revenue streams, customer segments, and value propositions. By providing concrete examples and relatable analogies to further explain things to them, the explanation becomes more accessible and easier to comprehend.

Pitfalls

One of the most significant challenges people face when trying to explain complex things is the tendency to use jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to their audience. To avoid this pitfall, it's crucial to know your audience and tailor your explanation accordingly. 

If you're explaining a new concept to someone with limited knowledge in the subject matter, using simple language and relatable examples can make a world of difference in understanding it. On the other hand, if you're discussing complex topics, concepts or ideas with experts in the field, using industry-specific terminology may be more appropriate.

Another common mistake people make when explaining concepts is failing to provide context or real-world applications. Without a clear understanding of how a concept relates to their lives or work, the audience may struggle to see its relevance or importance. 

Quick Tips

To combat this, try to incorporate storytelling or real-life scenarios into your explanation. By creating a narrative around the same point or the same concept itself, you can help your audience connect with the ideas on a deeper level and better understand how they apply to their own experiences.

In addition to using examples and stories, there are several other techniques you can employ to make your explanations more effective. One such method is the use of analogies, which involve comparing the unfamiliar concept to something more familiar or relatable. 

For instance, when explaining how a complex machine works, you might compare it to a common household appliance that shares similar principles. This helps to explain a more complex idea or concept and bridge the gap between the known and the unknown, making the new concept more accessible to your audience.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the key to explaining complex concepts effectively lies in your ability to break down the ideas into manageable parts, use simple language and relatable examples, provide context and real-world applications, and employ techniques like analogies and storytelling. 

By following these guidelines and tailoring your approach to your audience's needs, you can help them fully understand even the most complicated ideas and complex technical concepts.

When it comes to explaining complex ideas, we understand that a template goes a long way in helping you organise your thoughts and ideas. Which will will eventually be formatted into a pitch for you to explain. To help with this we have created the concept canvas.

The Concept Canvas

This is the second instalment in our free blog Canvas range - The Concept Canvas.

Much like the previous Brief Canvas, its particular purpose is to split up your deep thinking and complex topics into a set of clear buckets and create a clear structure so that you can explain your complex concepts and ideas efficiently and with maximum effect to make people understand the world and your audience.

This is important because our individual brains interpret everything differently, which could lead to misinterpretation, especially with new thinking or research that is not anchored to things we already understand. Your canvas should help carefully create the correct mental image and direct focus.

We adopted the popular Business Model Canvas process and adapted it for our own needs. We found that our clients really liked the category format, so we wanted to share it with you.

The Two Reasons Why We Created The Concept Canvas

1. The need for a tool that can not only harvest lots of ideas, but act as a consistent way of comparing them.

2. A framework to help creative thinkers tighten up their initial thought and writing by asking some tough questions that provoke reflection and analysis.

STAGE 1 - COMPLEX CONCEPTS

The Idea

Explaining a complex concept in a small number of words that demonstrates your knowledge, just like a good elevator pitch, is a valuable ability. That's why we restrict this part of the Canvas to only 140 characters. We know a tweet is now 280, but we're old school here. The definition of both your insight and of your writing is key, so you may find you need to practice.

The problem (in a tweet):  Effectively communicating to the audience your idea and that your interpretation of the problem or opportunity is sound.

The insight (in a tweet): This is the universal truth that elegantly connects your new concepts to the issue at hand. A unique insight into an issue is key to an original concept solution.

The solution (in a tweet): If you have quality insight as a springboard, this bit will come naturally. And keep the writing simple - your audience and Grandma should of course be able to understand this complex stuff too!

Three Stages To Success

The Concept Canvas breaks your creative thinking down into a three-step process to help you explain your abstract concepts;

1. A definition of your insight - describe the difficult concept, explain how it works, the resources required, etc.

2. A viability and honesty in the form of a gateway question (e.g. Would I be genuinely interested in it if it wasn't my idea?)

3. A justification and explanation of your logic behind your complex concept, and a demonstration and example of what the ROI would look like.

Here are our tips for the type of details and knowledge you should include in the Canvas categories about your complicated concepts:

Explain Stuff

Working through all the channels an idea might exist in upfront can be a helpful learning experience. By doing so, you can generate a deeper understanding of how the process works and do some research, so you (or a production person) understand the resources that will be needed to create and execute it. "Build it and they will come" is a familiar phrase, but it rarely happens, so the distribution of your insight needs to be considered and explained from the off

When writing your explanation of the experience, remember that this is a high-level user journey. Try to keep your writing to only the main steps, otherwise it will get a lot more complicated later on when you add details. A step-by-step explanation explaining things isn't really necessary at this point.

Practical Resources

By now, we imagine that you should have a reasonable idea of where the concept will live and how individuals will interact with it. This knowledge should mean you can imagine and realize all the people then needed for its development. The big picture, if you will.

Depending on your experience, you may want to get advice here. For example, ask yourself "Do I have the right skill set for the job? How long will each step take? What is a typical day rate?" Your audience will likely have the same questions.

You won't need to identify the exact budget - an estimate will do. But at least you'll have explored what the reality looks like.

If you are serious about getting this idea off the ground, the first principles you need to show are that you're serious about understanding what resources that it will take. Provide an example or two of specific tools and techniques you will need to give the audience a clearer image.

STAGE 2: GATEWAY QUESTIONS

"Sense Check" Your Abstract Concepts

Time to ask some tough questions about your ideas and thinking, and be honest with your answers.

Aside from the obvious stress-tests - for example, whether it is technically or financially feasible - the really big one is being able to say, hand-on-heart, that you would care about this if it wasn't your idea. Is it an ugly baby?

STAGE 3: MAKE IT MAKE SENSE

‘Why it works'

By explaining why this is a well thought out idea, you save readers the effort of having to search for your focus points in your material and missing important details. Choosing your words carefully helps massively at this point, as you don't want to mislead or confuse the reader.

Go back to the persona in the brief and map the benefits of your ideas back to their needs. This shows you've identified their needs, that they have importance, and how you can meet them.

The business will like it because this is the part that's often forgotten then awkwardly post-rationalised. Save yourself the pain and show the people paying how your concept ties to their objectives.

You will cover this in more detail in the ‘Return' box too.

‘How you talk about it'

It's always good to have a working name or concept title. If it's a fun and pithy one, all the better, as it helps stakeholders get invested and gets them talking.

The press release is a tried and tested approach. Future projecting what success would look like in the form of a press release demonstrates the real world context of what you're aiming for.

‘Return'

This is where the rubber hits the road, where you define where your insight creates value and how that value can be measured.

You want the audience to arrive at this part completely clear on what you're suggesting, and then walk away sold on its potential and ready to commit.

Download all the canvases for free in editable Keynote format

Next up is our Pilot Canvas , the essential 1-pager for executing a new concept in a low-risk way.

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