How to Avoid Being “TOO Detailed” and Rambling When Speaking

Techie: “Well, we had 2 VARCHAR, fields from the M2S legacy system that were being concatenated before the websphere interface batch job … bla bla bla … The SAP iDocs were correctly configured, so, bla bla bla… Eventually we noticed that the fields were being truncated … bla bla bla… so finally, we were able to fix it by …womp womp womp…  yeah, so now it works.”

Director (to me): “Can you explain that in English, please?”

Me: “The errors were caused by a misalignment between the old system and SAP. We figured out the problem, aligned the fields and everything is working as expected now.”

Director: “That was easy.”

We’ve all seen this scenario before: Someone gives an unnecessarily complicated, overly detailed, highly technical explanation. SO- how do you avoid being too detailed, when the explanation may, in fact, be something complex?

Start with the Simplest Explanation

Think about the KISS principle that has been used for decades or Occam’s razor that has been philosophized for centuries. Simplicity works. Start with something that can be covered, ideally, in a couple of sentences or within a minute or 2. If there is a critically important technical detail, mention it quickly. IF the audience wants more detail, they can, and will, ask.

Start from simple and work your way up to more complex as required:

1 – Simplest explanation – Directly to the point with no technical jargon.
2 – Concise explanation – Summarized explanation with minimal technical jargon
3 – Detailed explanation – Detailed technical explanation

The trajectory from understanding to confusion...

The trajectory from understanding to confusion…

As you can see from the diagram above, the typical audience will understand more as you explain further details. However, you reach a point of diminishing returns when you start detailing to the point of confusion. In the very worst case, your explanation may be SO complex that your audience is even more confused than when they started!

Use Analogies

Several research studies have concluded that analogies facilitate learning new concepts. Our brains are wired to compare a new concept (target) with one we can already relate to (base).

When someone is pitching an innovative new idea, there’s a reason they’ll compare it to something that most people already know: “It’s like Facebook, but for dogs.” (don’t ask.) or “It’s like Spotify but for independent artists.” etc.- it makes it easier to understand.

Compare something highly technical to something you know your audience will be familiar with. If it’s a large crowd, pick a topic most people know something about like cooking, driving, household chores, going to school, etc.

Know and Observe Your Audience

Chandler-Falling-Asleep

This is THE most important point and cannot be stressed enough. A director typically needs far less detail than a developer. Don’t assume everyone cares about the nitty-gritty details in the same way you do. Solving technical challenges can be exciting, but, generally speaking, business people don’t share that excitement with us techies.

Below are the typical signs and stages that you’re rambling and your audience may not need (or care) about the details you’re explaining:

  • Their facial expressions indicate confusion
    Make sure you’re answering the right question in language they can understand.
  • Their eyes start to wander
    They’re hoping you’ll notice they’ve tuned out…wrap it up!
  • They start checking their phones or doing something else
    Now they’re making it obvious they’re not listening…
  • They start interrupting you with a quick succession of “Yeah, yeah, uh-huh, yes, ok, mmhmm, yeah…” and/or doing that “move it along” hand motion
    Seriously. Wrap it up!!
  • They say “Let’s take this offline.” or a variation thereof
    Now you’ve done it. This actually means: “What you’re saying has no relevance to anyone in this meeting but you and MAYBE a couple of others, so please stop wasting everyone’s time.”

Keep it simple, clear and concise. Use analogies and examples your audience will relate to. Finally, know your audience and pay attention to them. Follow these steps and you’ll already be way ahead of several of your peers!

If you believe this post can help a friend/colleague or make your meetings more efficient and effective, please make the world a better place by sharing this post using the links on the left!

Do you find yourself rambling or being too detailed? How do you react to people rambling? I’d like to hear how you handle either side of the coin.

Ian Selvarajah
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Ian Selvarajah

Ian takes professional development to the next level. Good is no longer good enough – you have to be stellar to stand out. Ian has made it his mission to give individuals the edge they are looking for: he trains them to be elite– elite negotiators, speakers, sellers, networkers and all-round elite communicators.
Ian Selvarajah
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