You have something important to convey. And you really need the people you're talking about to get it, buy into it and maybe even act on it.

But your topic is complicated. And to build your explanation, you've created a lot of slides. And each slide contains a lot of data. And you worry that, despite the fact that your audience members are smart, they won't get what you're talking about.

What do you do? Use this adult learning principle--experience--to develop a description that meets the needs of your audience.

"Adult learners come to each learning experience with their unique former knowledge," write Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps in their book, Telling Ain't Training. For that reason, "the more you factor the experience of your learners into the design and delivery" of your presentation, training or other communication, "the more effective the outcome."

How do you do so? First, research the background of the people you're sharing information with. Stolovitch and Keeps recommend considering such factors as aptitudes, prior knowledge, attitudes, learning and language preferences perquisite skills, culture and relevant strengths or weaknesses.

For example, my firm once designed a change communication workshop for a group of leaders to prepare them for an upcoming organizational change. But before we began, we conducted informal interviews with eight or 10 leaders. By doing so, we discovered that many leaders had "grown up" in the company--they had been there almost their entire careers. As a result, because the organization had been so stable for so long, those leaders had no experience managing change. So we needed to make sure our workshop started with the fundamentals, explaining essential aspects of change.

Once you've done your research, use these three rules to develop your content:

1. Use familiar vocabulary, language style, examples and references--or take time to provide explanations if you're using terms or concepts that won't be instantly understood. 

I'll never forget conducting a focus group with employees at a manufacturing facility to ask their feedback about town hall meetings. "I have to admit," said one employee, "that I don't understand any of the financial information. It uses terms I'm not familiar with, so it's all lost on me." Once we gave this feedback to the Finance VP, he ditched the Corporate Finance Speak and used simple language to share his information.

2. Draw examples and experiences from the group to "enrich the session and build bridges from the familiar to the new." My firm is currently developing a learning session for leaders where we're going to ask this question: "Think of a time when you tried to introduce a new initiative or process and things? What went well? What went wrong?" That way, when we introduce a new method for communicating change, leaders will be able to link this approach with their experiences.

3. "Innoculate" your learners. "When there have been bad experiences," write Stolovitch and Keeps, warn them that you are moving into negative experiences. Diffuse resistance by demonstrating sympathetic awareness of past problems." 

By meeting people where they are and acknowledging their experience, you can explain your topic so that everyone understands it. 

Published on: Oct 14, 2018