“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” G B Shaw
Misunderstandings, communication gaps or lost messages all hinder our communication efforts each day. Explanations are taken for granted as we face these communication issues on a day to day basis (and many times solve them unconsciously). However, it is useful to take a step back and reflect on the way we communicate and find out what makes it easy/ hard for us to understand one another to find the ways we can improve.
Explanations are the act or process of making something clear or easy to understand, the act or process of telling, showing, or being the reason for or cause of something.' (Merriam Webster).
So what makes a good explanation video?
- Empathy: understanding and sharing the feeling of others; or in other words the ability to picture yourself in someone else's shoes. People naturally explain things from their point of view, talented explainers however will communicate from their audience's perspective. This suggests that we need to seek the unique and helpful ways to explain ideas with illustrations well-known by the audience.
- Conciseness: known as the art of packaging facts. Being able to share enough information, while leaving the opportunity to look for more.
- Answering the WHY, WHAT or HOW: more than merely providing a definition, an explanation should give the answer to ‘why does it make sense’ or ‘why should i care’. For each question there should be a corresponding explanation. This helps the audience find causality in the concept they are being explained.
- Making people care: presenting information in a way that not only makes people understand, but also makes them care. This is the base for getting your message to “stick”. By getting your audience engaged emotionally; they will remember your message.
- Connection: make it as easy as possible for your audience to identify themselves with characters in the video. For “non-people” stories, you can use a trick here called ‘personification’. With this method you give human traits to objects and facts, making your story more human and therefore more understandable. This helps in creating a more familiar context for the viewer.
- Familiarization: making connections to something your audience already understood is essential. As most services are a fresh approach to an existing problem, you can simply create a metaphor by building on the existing knowledge. This is what we call an old-new metaphor. That’s the trick Dropbox used for their explanation video: loosing your stuff in different pockets. Most start ups could explain their product with one sentence: « We are the … (Groupon / AiBnB / …) for … (industry / product / issue). The more analogies to similar ideas, the higher the potential for understanding.
- Using Metaphors: in the continuity of the above-stated, metaphors help people make connections to their world. Metaphors are figures of speech that connect two unlike things to highlight a point. A well used metaphor in explanation videos is the machinery representing efficiency.
- Using Analogy: comparing two ideas for the purpose of outlining the similarity or a difference between them. Analogies are usually more efficient at explaining than metaphors because of their straightforward nature (as opposed to metaphors which “only” intend to make a connection).
- Storytelling: or the art of inserting emotions among the facts. Starting from raw facts, storytelling needs to make connections between them and make a coherent piece. It’s all about giving meaning to facts and figures, and on the long-run giving a reason to believe.
- Making it 'common sense': The concept, idea can only be shared if it is made easy for people to understand it AND explain it to each other, in other words: facilitate the communication among people.
A good explanation video lowers the costs of understanding. Tricky and complex questions from the economic or healthcare sector can be easily summarized in nutshell. At the same time it does not limit the complexity, it gives a glance at root causes, consequences and further challenges.
It’s all about clarifying the reason behind an idea, making it sensible and putting it into perspective (Lee Lefever, The art of explanation).