After a few tough months, I was recently offered an unexpected and extremely exciting business opportunity.
I arrived at a restaurant for my monthly catch-up session with my mentor and sat fidgeting while waiting for him to arrive; I couldn’t wait to tell him about the big deal that had come my way.
At this stage of my journey as an entrepreneur, I know the importance of getting different perspectives, so I was curious to hear what he would say about this new business opportunity.
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After we’d ordered our meals, I started telling him enthusiastically about my new business opportunity. He listened carefully, not showing any emotion. When I’d finished, he said: “The explanation you’ve just given me is too complex. You’re not articulating what you want to do simply enough.”
How could he say my explanation was too complex? It was straightforward to me. I repeated my explanation of the opportunity and watched his reaction. He shook his head, and said: “It’s still not simple enough.”
I was now struggling to hide my frustration.
Ask a six-year-old
My mentor looked around the restaurant. His eyes settled on the table next to us, where a mother and her six-year-old daughter were busy enjoying a tiramisu desert that had just arrived.
He leaned over to the mother, and asked her politely: “Excuse me ma’am, would you mind if we troubled you? I’d like my friend to briefly explain something to your daughter.” After a somewhat awkward pause, the mother gave in to his request.
He turned to me and said: “I want you to explain to this young girl what your new business opportunity is.”
I wasn’t sure why I needed to explain it to a six-year-old, but decided to humour him. I briefly told her about my new business opportunity.
My mentor then asked her to relay my story, and when she did, she provided a completely inaccurate interpretation of what I had just told her.
After listening to her response, my mentor asked me to once again tell the young girl about my new business opportunity, but this time in simpler terms, making sure I explained clearly what I’ll be doing and why I’ll be doing it.
It took three attempts at telling her my story for the young girl to finally understand my new business opportunity.
We thanked her and her mom for accommodating our request, and let them get back to their dessert.
A rule of thumb
Very often, in our heads we complicate what we do by using big, trendy terms like ‘best practice’, ‘best of breed’ and ‘most innovative’ to explain what our business or product is all about.
A good rule of thumb is: If you can’t articulate what you do so that a six-year-old would be able to understand it, you simply aren’t conveying your ideas clearly and simply enough.
Ensure that you start off by providing the context of your business or product in simple terms.
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Once you see that the audience understands your message, move to a higher level of explanation. By simplifying your idea, you create a far better understanding of what you do, and why you do it.
This thought experiment will prove invaluable when you’re meeting new people at networking events or pitching to potential clients.