How to Simply Communicate Complex Ideas

August 23, 2018    |    Heather Muir

Data drives business decisions.Nearly every company today depends on data to better understand the market, their customers, and ultimately to make better decisions. 

85% of companies are trying to be data-driven, but only 37% of them say they’ve been successful.

Why? Because it’s not really about the data. It’s about the insights.

The real challenge for companies today is figuring out how to draw meaning or value from all of the data at their fingertips.

It’s the same challenge technical presenters face when presenting complex topics to non-technical audiences.


How well do your technical teams communicate? In our experience, data scientists, engineers, financial analysts, and technology professionals tend to struggle with the same three problems when presenting complexity:

  1. Letting data overtake their presentations
  2. Winning the attention of listeners
  3. Sustaining engagement

Communicating complexity is challenging. For technical pros, doing it engagingly and concisely may be as easy as herding cats.

It’s one thing to get up and present to a group of your peers. But presenting to executives or customers who don’t share your expertise is wildly different.

That’s because the more you know and the more specialized your knowledge becomes, the harder it is to present to people not “in the know.”

And your audience doesn’t have much appetite for more data. They face an unrelenting assault of it already. Everyday people have to take in 5X more information than they did 25 years ago.

People’s brains are overwhelmed and overburdened. Yet somehow, you have to find a way to make them understand and get as excited about the topic as you are—without dumbing it down.

How do you do it?


Use these two proven tactics.Here are two of the most powerful tactics for presenting complexity with clarity, enthusiasm, and impact.

1) Use analogies to simplify complex ideas.
A non-technical audience isn’t likely to know a lot about nanoparticle technology, nuclear physics, or financial derivatives. Instead, use analogies to simplify complex, data-driven concepts.

Why do analogies work?

Because they give people a familiar frame of reference for understanding something new—a mental model for comparing something they don’t yet understand with something they do.

For example, Albert Einstein brilliantly used this analogy to explain radio, a new technology at the time:

“You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”

John Pollack, former speechwriter to Bill Clinton, literally wrote the book on analogies. In Shortcuts, Pollack credits analogical thinking with the success of corporate giants like Ford Motor Company and Apple.

Analogies, which are really micro stories, are how ideas catch fire—which brings me to the second tactic.

2) Use storytelling to connect with and excite listeners.
Research shows people easily forget facts but readily recall stories.

Stories are simply more compelling. It’s a function of how our brains are wired. Stories evoke an emotional response. And that emotional response helps listeners empathize with you in ways facts never could.

Just like analogies, stories give listeners a frame of reference they can relate to. Stories quickly put data in context and help listeners understand why they should care about what you have to say.

Neuroeconomics pioneer Dr. Paul Zak urges people to, “Think about story as a way to influence others.”

Zak discovered that our brains release oxytocin when hearing engaging narratives that adhere to the classic dramatic story arc. Oxytocin is, as Zak calls it, the Moral Molecule that causes people to feel empathy. And empathy is what prompts people to want to take action on your behalf—to buy your product or invest in your idea, for example.

Zak’s research showed that people were more likely to donate money to a cause or buy products (and pay more for them) when stories were used to present those causes and products.

Stories, then, literally change behavior.


Story without structure is like a bird without wings. Without a dramatic narrative arc—e.g., the hero never slays the dragon, the awkward nerd never finds love, the underdog never triumphs over the privileged—your story never takes flight.

If there’s one takeaway from Dr. Zak’s research that shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s this: stories need structure.

Use a narrative structure when planning your presentation. It will help you distill your knowledge and focus only on what’s most meaningful to listeners and integral to their understanding.

This is where clients say Mandel’s Blueprint® really shines. It offers a step-by-step, repeatable method for crafting story-driven presentations that really resonate with listeners. Try it out for yourself.


Big data is only getting bigger. Demand for data scientists is growing at a fast clip. But data is only as valuable as the insights it offers.

Now, more than ever, technical professionals need the skills to be able to translate complex data into valuable insights for their business—and then clearly communicate and sell that value to executives and customers alike.


Are your technical professionals prepared?Mandel teaches instantly applicable skills that empower technical professionals to clearly and authentically present complex ideas in both formal and informal settings.

Call or chat with us online now to start a conversation on how we can help your technical teams present with greater clarity, comfort, and enthusiasm than ever before.


Learn MoreFor even more actionable tips on presenting data compellingly, check out The Secrets to Financial Storytelling (Why Data-Driven Presentations Fail).

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