May 6, 2022 / Esther Choy
Industries like Fintech is notoriously complex. With new digital currency comes new digital tools and terms that can be hard to explain. Terms like blockchain, NFTs, cryptocurrency can leave a lot of people who are not in the industry scratching their heads. What if it was your job to explain these nuanced and technical terms to someone who had no experience with digital currency? How would you do it?
To try to explain Bitcoin mining, it has been compared to a Rubik’s cube: “a mathematical equation that is difficult to solve but easy to verify that it has been solved correctly.” A recent CNN Business video attempts to explain bitcoin mining like this: “Transactions are bundled into a block…computers like these race to solve a complex math problem. The winner gets to upload that block to the blockchain. A vast ledger.” Along with the voice over, a simplified visual representation of Bitcoin mining helps the audience understand the complex information.
Because Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are notoriously hard to understand for lay people, before CNN tried to use visuals to explain it, they used intrigue to capture their audience’s attention with this statement, “A quarter of all the electricity in this county is powering Bitcoin mining.” This gets the audience asking questions: What county? Why does Bitcoin take so much energy? What does mining look like?
An intriguing setup
By intriguing our audience with a setup statement that provokes questions, we engage our audience’s imagination. Like suspenseful narratives, an intriguing story setup “engages brain areas associated with mentalizing, predictive inference, and possibly cognitive control.” When our audience is engaged and asking questions, we are preparing them to look for answers to their questions. Thus, you are now prepared to communicate complex information.
This is the first tool business leaders can employ to engage their audiences while they communicate complex information. The next three tools are strategies you can use to break down information into useful, understandable pieces.
Divide and conquer
This strategy breaks down the whole of the complexity into smaller categories so your audience will feel less overwhelmed as they approach new information. Sticking to the world of finance, we can use the array of financial products as an example of how to employ this strategy. To explain financial products financial advisor Joel Moore divides them into two categories, loaners and owners. A vast array of financial products can now be divided into two categories. Loaners include bonds, mezzanine debt, asset-backed securities. Owners include real estate, private equity, and stocks. Since everyone is familiar with the idea of loaning and owning, the complexity of each product can now be understood on a basic level. Moore sidesteps the jargon of the financial industry to divide and conquer the information he conveys to his clients. The two simple categories serve as anchors that help his clients get oriented as they discuss their investing options.
Compare the unfamiliar to the familiar
Did you know that trees in a forest are all connected mycorrhizal networks? These symbiotic relationships with fungi allow the trees to communicate, share nutrients, send distress signals and more.
To bring this unfamiliar idea to a larger audience, scientists started to call it the Wood Wide Web. In doing so, they are comparing the complex biological relationships between the plant and fungi kingdoms with a tool most of us use every day, the internet.
Why does comparing the unfamiliar with the familiar work so well to unlock new concepts? Research has shown when you “hitch” a new idea to something someone already has experience with, the new idea is coded with one’s own past and trusted experience. In the example of the mycorrhizal networks, a listener who has experienced what it means to pull up information from far reaches of the internet, can now personally connect with how one tree under beetle predation can send warning signals to the trees miles deeper into the forest.
Comparing two things is in fact a metaphor. Metaphors (from the Latin roots meaning to carry) “carry over” the attributes of one thing and ascribe them to the another. While metaphors may sound poetic and challenging, in everyday conversation we use them all the time without thinking. For example, New York Times columnist David Brooks observed: “When talking about relationships, we often use health metaphors. A friend might be involved in a sick relationship. Another might have a healthy marriage…when talking about money, we rely on liquid metaphors. We dip into savings, sponge off friends or skim funds off the top.”
In the complex world of cryptocurrency and fintech, new metaphors are popping up everywhere to explain the new technologies. “Smart contracts, like vending machines, eliminate the middlemen,” “Blockchain is like a Google doc…When we create a document and share it with a group of people, the document is distributed instead of copied or transferred” [1,2,3].
Structure is the foundation
A simple structure that provides the foundation to communicate complex information is AIA.
- Acknowledge: Recognize your audience’s experience.
- Inspire: Show a pathway forward that improves their situation.
- Aspire: Help them imagine a new outcome.
Like fintech, healthcare administration is notorious for complexity. Healthcare credentialing, for example, requires insurance plans and hospitals to verify providers’ credentials, including their degrees, board certifications, clinical experience, malpractice history, any criminal record etc. Using fax machines, phone calls, and emails, the traditional way of credentialing can take months for Credentialing Verification Organizations or in-house teams to pull together all the necessary information. Plus, this administrative process is often error-filled, further burdening networks and providers during the lag time.
Founder and CEO Mike Simmons and his team at andros needed to explain to potential customers that their cloud-based platform could reduce overhead costs and improve turnaround times by 10 fold. How can his team explain that there’s a new tech-powered way of doing things without losing their audience to the disbelief and complexity of the new technology? Using the structure of AIA.
Acknowledge: We know that credentialing is a pain in the neck for providers, administrators, and executives across the healthcare ecosystem. It’s frustrating for providers and in-house teams trying to do the heavy lift of administration.
Inspire: Technology is helping us do things in ways we’ve never imagined and now it can help improve upon the way credentialing has been done for decades.
Aspire: Our credentialing service reduces overhead, ensures accuracy every step of the way, and provides verifications 10 times faster than industry averages.
Imagination is an underutilized muscle for many professionals, but triggering your audience’s imagination can have a huge impact. By acknowledging your audience’s experience, they are able to follow you to new unimagined territory. Like a credentialing process that takes days, not months.
Storytelling is not a magic bullet that provides a fairytale ending to every business meeting. But storytelling helps us connect with our audience. It provides the tools for structuring how we can communicate complex information. The next time you are prepping for a meeting or team retreat where you’ll have to communicate complex information, remember these strategies for making the complex clear:
- Intrigue your audience
- Divide and conquer
- Compare the unfamiliar to the familiar
- Structure is the foundation
Business communication can be tricky, but with the right storytelling tools there’s no need to start from scratch. You can also create a visual to explain your complex concept.
1 – McCall, Isaiah, “7 Analogies That Simplify Bitcoin, Blockchain & Other Cryptocurrencies,” Medium. March 2021.
2 – ethereum.org. “What is Smart Contract?” April 2022.
3 – Builtin.com. “Blockchain Defined.” N.D.
Better Every Story
"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.
Join the thousands who receive Esther Choy’s insights, best practices and examples of great storytelling in our twice monthly newsletter.