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Talk it Through with a Stranger

Talk it Through with a Stranger

There’s a line from Denzel Washington in Philadelphia that was something like, “Tell me as if I were a 7-year old.”

Can you boil down your work, personal, or even philosophical challenges or questions into a format that someone who’s not familiar with you or the work would understand? It’s harder than you think.

I can talk all day with my business partner about the most silly-but-important details of a project and he knows exactly what I’m talking about–and exactly what I should do. But I don’t have to explain my whole background or anything about the work. He knows all that. But I’m also getting something of biased opinion because he does know all of that.

If you have to explain it someone who has no idea what you’re talking about–and probably doesn’t care much–you better get to the point.

I’m working in the lobby of a hotel today on a naming project. My mother-in-law asked me what I’m doing. How deep do I go? How much does she really want to know? She knows I’ve been in the naming business for a decade, but she’s always interested in what the projects are about. I figured I had five minutes of her attention before distractions like grandkids come back.

As I talked about the project in terms that someone unfamiliar with the project would best understand, I heard how I phrased things and the reasoning or rationale behind why we created certain names and learned from how I explained them to her. Because explaining them to her isn’t too far from saying the same thing tomorrow to the client. Because although the client is familiar with the project, their colleagues are not–and he’s going to have to go to his colleagues and relate what we talked about. So I might as well make our thinking as easy to understand as possible.

Do you have elevator pitch ready? If not, work on it with strangers.

So yes, we can also talk more specifically with the client about the project in terms that only we would understand, but to get down to the equivalent of the “elevator pitch” of what our project is about is a difficult–and excellent–exercise.

How well do you know your topic? Enough to explain it to a stranger? [Barcelona, Spain]

How well do you know your topic? Enough to explain it to a stranger? [Barcelona, Spain]

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