You chose your vocation, you studied to earn valuable training in the field, and you worked for years to establish your place in the industry. You are the foremost expert on you, so why can’t you explain what you do for a living? Maybe you’re overthinking the matter: Take a step back and follow these handy steps to convey your craft to those who don’t share your expertise (yet).
1. Spice it up without dumbing it down.
Admit it: your job is pretty cool. That’s why you do it every day, right? When you explain your profession to an outsider, focus on that very coolness to get the message across without getting bogged down in technical jargon. If you’re a mechanic, avoid reeling off opaque terms like torque, manifold and catalytic converter. Instead, speak to the hot-rod in all of us; your audience (or at least a good portion of it) probably love the liberation of the open road. Home in on that shared passion while you explain how you spend your day getting motorists back in the driver’s seat.
2. Universal examples.
Even if your job isn’t as exciting as a NASCAR star, it most likely serves a vital function in our society. Tap into that sense of commonality when you attempt to educate others about your work. Take, for instance, an IT genius. She may be a whiz at fixing network issues, but how can she lay out a case for her relevancy without putting her audience to sleep like a neglected laptop?
The answer: focus on the basics. She could compare the streamlining of her company’s digital infrastructure to the meal sitting in front of you. That roast beef sandwich may look delicious and you want to eat it all right now, but how will you be able to ingest it without ample water to chase it down? This metaphor explains how the IT guru approaches her workplace network, and now you have a visceral (and universally understood) illustration of how to “digest” this information.
3. Show and tell.
We live in a visual age, so harness your audience’s attention by igniting their imagination. Most great presentations require imagery to tell their tale, so here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when constructing your story:
- Bold is beautiful: When choosing the font for your PowerPoint masterpiece, go with an easily readable option. If your audience can’t read your slides, they’ll never understand the first thing about your industry. And on the topic of PowerPoint text…
- Simplify: Don’t overload your presentation with too many words. Deliver the bulk of your explanation aloud and let the images speak for themselves. If your audience is straining to read your slides, they’re not focusing on your message. Be a storyteller, not a prop.
- Be dynamic: Use eye-popping pics from your best project to excite your fans/users/followers. Instead of getting down in the weeds, show them the entire landscape from afar and invite them to learn more at their own pace.
- Don’t overstay your welcome: Why tell your narrative with a 10-minute video when most people tune out after 30 seconds? Why cram in 20 slides when five will suffice? Your audience is doing you the favor of tuning in (or showing up in person); don’t take their time for granted.
- Get social: You’re a social media maestro, so apply the same rules you bring to your personal accounts to this endeavor. Brevity, clarity and hashtags will help spread your message to the Twittersphere, Instaverse and beyond without alienating your target demo.
4. Spell it out.
FWIW (for what it’s worth), acronyms often come in handy during your daily grind. You submit your work by EOD (end of day), you always respond to emails ASAP (as soon as possible), all so you can earn some much-deserved PTO (paid time off). But not everyone is attuned to your specific job’s lexicon of acronyms. Be sure to spell out your industry terms before abbreviating them, or else the audience’s attention span might just prove to be shorter than your trusty acronyms.
5. Fitting a square peg into a round hole.
You’re an innovator, so your vision may be too technical or abstract to convey using traditional vernacular. If that’s the case, then rely on the classics. Music fans may not yet understand why they need to download your new song-sharing app, but they do remember what it was like to attend their first Lollapalooza festival. Tap into that shared fervor and amp it up! Draw a parallel from the radical old days of copying cassettes or burning CDs to your current endeavor of swapping digital music files with the swipe of a smartphone.
6. Know your audience.
You spend most of your day communicating with others in your industry, but this is your chance to break out of that box. So, which direction will you go? If you’re in the insurance field and you need to speak to a crowd of medical professionals, find common ground by choosing examples that best illustrate your point. Discuss the complexities of a certain surgical procedure before pivoting to the costs of the said procedure. This approach acknowledges your audience’s vocation before building a bridge to the topic at hand (in this case, healthcare prices).
7. Speak from the heart.
The cardinal rules of any engaging communication are connection and authenticity. If you don’t relate to what you’re saying, how will anyone else follow your train of thought? Don’t get derailed by the need to sound pedantic; stay on track and focus on the elements of your profession that first drew you into the field.
Consider your very first days of on-the-job training. Remember how excited you were? Well, muster that enthusiasm and funnel it toward your pupils. You might just be grooming the next generation of industry leaders to carry the baton after you’ve already won your own race.