How to Explain Technology

When I was in sixth grade, I loved math, and even won second place in a state math contest. However, one year later, I would go from loving math to loathing it. What changed? My instructor. In sixth grade, I had a teacher who loved to bring simplicity to complex mathematical concepts. In seventh grade, I had a teacher who would explain something only once, and if you didn’t understand, that was your problem. Ironically, it was my seventh grade teacher who taught me one of life’s great lessons: good communication is essential to success, both yours and the people interacting with you.

In much the same way, communicating complex (or simple) technological processes and issues to those who are unfamiliar with a particular technology, or are simply not tech savvy to begin with, is a challenging endeavor. But there are several things you can do to ensure your success, and theirs. Below we’ve outlined six actionable steps you can take now to help you impart information and explain technology in a way that everyone can easily understand.

Disarm their fears. Be approachable.

Perhaps the greatest fear of all is fear of the unknown. When people don’t understand something, like why they are having a technological issue, it often causes them to experience anxiety. This opens the doors to other fears, such as looking like an idiot in front of others or doing something wrong. (Try these video conferencing etiquette tips to avoid this.)

Fortunately, you have the power to dispel all of those underlying fears simply by being an approachable source of knowledge and help. To create an air of approachability, pay close attention to your body language as you communicate with others. Most psychologists agree there are three things you can do to appear more approachable when communicating with others:

  1. Keep your posture open and welcoming, as in head back, shoulders square, arms uncrossed.
  2. Smile (when appropriate) as you communicate with others.
  3. Maintain eye contact, which requires putting away distractions such as phones, tablets, etc.

Build a bridge. Be personal.

Great communication requires you to connect with others, and connecting with others requires you to find common ground with the people you are talking to. Bestselling author and researcher, Carmine Gallo studied TED Talks and discovered that all of the talks that went viral had one thing in common: the speaker conveyed a big idea to the audience by presenting it through a personal story.

I discovered that 65% of the content fell under what Aristotle called pathos—conveying emotion through story. Twenty-five percent fell under logos—data, logic—and the remaining 10% fell under ethos, establishing credibility for oneself. When was the last time you gave a presentation approaching anywhere near 65% personal story? If you’re like most people your business presentation is 99% data and 1% story. Striking a balance between logic and emotion will convince more people to buy into your idea,” said Gallo.

Foster understanding. Ask questions.

One of the best ways to demonstrate to people who aren’t tech savvy that you understand their issues in grasping a technological concept is to take a genuine interest in the areas where they are experiencing a disconnect.

Ask open-ended questions about the situation and let them tell you everything that’s on their minds. If you are responding to an emergency tech issue, be patient and allow people to vent their frustrations. Resist the temptation to point out obvious mistakes. Instead make people feel heard and validated by listening without interrupting. Once they have shared their pain points, acknowledge their trouble by saying something like, “I completely understand why you’re frustrated.” Then, include them in the solution, i.e. “Based on what you’ve shared, I believe I know a way we can make this work.”

Categorize your audience. Know their learning style.

Most people fall into one of three categories when it comes to learning styles: visual, auditory or experiential. If you are imparting knowledge to a large group of people, you will have all three types in your audience, so plan your presentations accordingly. On the other hand, if an individual is having a tech issue, ask him/her before you meet which learning style he/she prefers and then bring the necessary materials with you. A few things to keep in mind are:

  1. Visual Learners retain information best when graphics are involved. Use diagrams and charts that allow them to visualize processes. Show them how something works.
  2. Auditory Learners retain information best by listening to others talk and then repeating what they have heard. Use stories, written words and discussions to help them master IT concepts.
  3. Experiential Learners are action-oriented and learn by doing. Use a hands-on approach and take them through processes step-by-step, allowing them to experience technology for themselves.

Avoid the professor trap. Be fun and engaging.

At some point in time, we’ve all been trapped by a professor so dull and irrelevant in his instruction methods that if boring people to death were possible, no one would make it out of his lecture alive. People are willing to learn more about things they are interested in, so help them take an interest in technology by making it engaging for them.

One way to make complex topics fun for those who aren’t tech savvy  is to gamify your instruction methods. If you’re training a group of employees about how to use a particular technology, try sharing fascinating facts about it in a multiple choice format and hand out small prizes ($5 gift cards) to people who guess correctly. If you’re in charge of increasing adoption numbers for a particular technology, launch a friendly company-wide competition that rewards groups for their participation (pizza parties, tickets to the movies, etc.). If you’re working with someone one-on-one, tap into their motivation to learn something new by periodically affirming their good efforts, i.e. “I’m impressed. You’re a fast learner.” Finally, consider rewarding employees with some small tchotchke at the end of your tech talk, such as a stress ball, or some other fun work toy.

Keep it simple. Take a building-blocks approach.

In the 1991 comedy, What About Bob, Bill Murray’s character, Bob Wiley learns to overcome his crippling neuroses through baby steps, which becomes a mantra he repeats as he approaches any obstacle he finds challenging. Oddly enough, you can take a cue from this comedy and do the same by breaking down complex tech concepts into more digestible bits of information. Kevin Daum, a bestselling business author, advises IT experts to simplify tech training by making the information they share “easy enough for a 12-year-old to understand.”  

When asked about delivering talks on complex topics, professional speaker and corporate trainer, Ellen Finkelstein, said “Even rocket science is made up of small principles that are simple. Yes, when you put them together, they’re complicated, but if you start with the complication, you’ll lose everyone.”

Bonus: Connect your dots.

Sometimes the best way to help and explain technology to employees who aren’t tech savvy overcome the fear of having to learn how to use complex technology is to replace outdated legacy systems with an IT tool that anyone can use and understand. Usable by anyone right out of the box and equipped with intuitive video conferencing software, Highfive enables everyone to connect, share screens, and participate in vivid video meetings anytime, anywhere.

Best of all, it’s affordable and requires no cables, no remote controls and no IT staff to make it all work. Before you give your next tech talk, try giving yourself a Highfive, first.


By Sara Moseley