Communicating Complex Information

My colleague Sunni Brown recently spoke on the topic of communicating complex information. She would know because her beat includes most of the STEM-related majors at a university. STEM, if you aren’t familiar, is science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

That’s actually one of the tips. She has several more for turning complex information into readable material.

Avoid acronyms. Yes, acronyms make it easier on the writer, but definitely not easier for the reader. Too many acronyms read like alphabet soup, which is always murky, and, therefore complex.

Ask lots of questions. Asking “how” and “why” questions will help you understand complex topics. Dig beneath the surface of what is being told to you. If you don’t understand, you need to keep asking questions. As a spokesperson, I need to know enough about the subject to be able to answer a reporter’s questions. As the person writing about a subject, I need to understand the topic to convey it simply to my readers.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand. It can be intimidating to meet with an academic who lives and breathes their area of expertise and then have to admit that you don’t understand it. Sunni has a sure-fire way to not be intimidated. “I ask the professor to explain the topic to me as if I were my 5-year-old son,” she says. “I’ve found that to be a laughable ice breaker, and the professor rarely seems put out that I need a lot of help understanding their project.”

Read your release or pitch out loud. When you read copy out loud you often stumble upon areas that need improvement. If you pause or trip over a word or phrase, Sunni says that’s a sure sign that you need to revisit that spot.

“I feel the most proud when I get media interest on a complicated topic that I’ve worked to uncomplicate.”

Sunni Brown

Ask others to read your copy. Another set of eyes is key. Says Sunni, “I’ve had someone write back highlighting a word and asking, ‘What the heck is this?’ That’s exactly why I wanted them to read it.”

When you succeed at making your content understandable – whether it’s pitching the media or writing an article – you’ll have a great win. “I feel the most proud when I get media interest on a complicated topic that I’ve worked to uncomplicate,” says Sunni. “That means I’ve done my job well.”

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Personal, Professional Growth Provide Reasons to Join a Group

I think I have finally finished paying my yearly dues for the various groups to which I belong.

I’m not complaining. The dues are worth it because of the various experiences and skills I gain through my memberships.

I’m also currently serving as membership director for Virginia Professional Communicators. A new member said it best,

“Treating myself to the gift of personal and professional growth this year is a wonderful thing.”

What can you gain from joining a group?

Encouragement and confidence My mystery writers group (Sisters in Crime Central Virginia) provides me with encouragement and confidence. Many of the members are published authors, some of whom have made the best-seller list. All of them have offered tips and advice as I work on my manuscript at my pace. Because of them, I am confident that one day my book will appear in print and reside on a shelf or an electronic device.

Writing skills I’m also working on my writing skills thanks to James River Writers. In the coming months I’ll learn how to organize my writing life and how to build a publishing resume. I’ll have opportunities to learn about the power of word choice and how traditional and indie publishing can work together.

New skills My involvement with VPC and NFPW enables me to hone skills in areas that I don’t work in every day. This year, for example, I’m co-director of the national communications conference for NFPW. Not only will I be doing some serious networking as I work to identify speakers and sponsors, but I also have to focus on collaboration and organization.

Leadership opportunities I began to develop my leadership skills serving on committees. Eventually I served as president of both my state affiliate and the national organization. I also led a strategic planning workshop for NFPW with another member.

Friendship As an added benefit, I have found that in all of these groups I have made some lifelong friends. Almost anywhere I go, there is someone I know. That’s a nice bonus.