By Karen Addis

Former broadcast reporter Carmie McCook and I led an interactive workshop on June 10 at Capitol Communicator’s PR Summit DC, on “Media Training: How to Simplify Complex Messages.” Between the two of us, we have media trained hundreds if not thousands of executives and subject matter experts. And in a town riddled with jargon and acronyms, combined with highly educated and accomplished professionals, who range from tech gurus to interventional cardiologists and Earth and space scientists, getting people to speak in “plain English” is easier said than done. Just ask any communicator who has attempted to do this.

Yet, over the course of our careers, Carmie and I have developed some tried-and-true tips for helping some of the most brilliant minds translate their industry’s jargon into succinct messages and pithy soundbites that tell their organization’s story in a powerful, impactful manner.

Here are our top-10 tips for success:

  1. Consider your target audience – package information accordingly
  2. Use acronyms and technical language sparingly – reporters change beats frequently and surprisingly not all jargon is consistently defined within the same industry or company
  3. Break concepts down into essential elements – a real challenge for scientists and researchers, but just as you do when developing key messages, determine your main points; backfill with supporting data
  4. Illustrate with facts, charts, visuals and third-party sources – these are your “supporting” or “proof points” and are very impactful
  5. Use analogies and metaphors – paint a picture so your audience “gets it”
  6. Tell a story – make it relevant; personalize it
  7. Dare to ask the subject matter expert “dumb” questions – you might be surprised by what you uncover
  8. Get specific details on what is important to the audience – explain the “why”
  9. Perform demonstrations (applies to television interviews) – explain a complex topics using props
  10. Fact-check everything with your subject-matter expert – you can never be too cautious

And, finally, one of my very favorite online tools: Upgoer 5. It takes simplifying language to the ridiculous, yet it is a fun and entertaining tool to use when training executives.

Karen Addis, APR, is senior vice president at Van Eperen

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