How to Be Better at Explaining Things (27 Effective Ways)

Have you ever struggled to explain something to a friend, colleague, or student? You know the information inside out, but somehow, it just doesn’t seem to click with them. Explaining things is a skill that many of us need, whether we’re teachers, managers, or just trying to help a friend understand a complex topic.

The good news is that explaining things is a skill you can improve and even become a master at making complex topics easy to grasp.

So, are you ready to transform the way you explain things? Let’s dive in and explore the strategies you can use to make your explanations clearer, more engaging, and more effective.

Know Your Audience

First things first, you gotta know who you’re talking to. This is all about figuring out what your audience is like, what they know already, and what they want to learn from you. This step is key because it shapes how you share your info.

If you’re talking to kids, you’ll explain things one way. If you’re talking to experts, you’ll do it another way.

Consider the following:

  • Age group: Use language and examples that fit your audience’s age.
  • Interest level: Keep them hooked by matching their interest in the topic.
  • Background knowledge: Start from what they know, then dive deeper.

Choosing the right examples or analogies depends a lot on this step. For younger crowds, a creative comparison works well. For pros, you might need more solid, research-backed examples.

Invest Time in Your Own Research

Next up, spend time getting to know your topic inside and out. This helps you feel more confident and ready to handle different kinds of questions. It’s all about being prepared.

That means:

  1. Reading up on your topic.
  2. Looking at different perspectives.
  3. Keeping track of the latest news or discoveries.

Knowing your audience comes in handy here, too. The better you understand them, the more you can guess what they’ll ask and tailor your prep to be as relevant as possible.

"Make sure you know the subject matter well enough. Once you know the other person actually wants to hear what you have to say, make sure that you really know the subject matter well. 

Richard Feynman said, "If you are unable to explain something so that a child can understand it, then YOU don't understand it." It's important when you are in the position of explaining that you come off as credible, or your message will be lost."

— Kimberly Tucker | Licensed Mental Health Therapist | Clinical Director, Pineapples Therapy

Don’t Pretend to Be an Expert

It’s super important to be okay with not knowing everything. If you’re unsure about something, just say so. Telling your audience, “I’ll need to check that,” or “That’s a great point; let’s explore it together,” is way better than guessing.

Faking expertise is like walking on thin ice; it can crack any minute. So share what you’re sure about, and be clear where your expertise ends. It actually makes you more trustworthy. 

Remember, none of us know everything, and admitting that invites your audience to learn with you. If someone else knows more, tip your hat to them and maybe learn alongside your audience. It keeps the conversation real, plus it stops any wrong information from getting out there. 

Provide Reputable Resources and Evidence

When you share something, it’s important to back it up with solid proof. Use information from well-respected sources. This makes what you’re saying way more believable. 

Using strong evidence shows you’ve done your homework and care about giving out correct information. And, if someone wants to learn more, they know where to look.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Stick to sources that are credible and well-respected.
  • Share links or names of books and articles.
  • Explain why these sources rock.

Start with the Big Picture

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, it’s effective to start with an overview. This gives your audience a context, helping them understand where the details fit in the broader scheme of things. For example, if you’re teaching about space, begin with the universe’s vastness before zooming into specific planets.

This approach helps in several ways:

  1. It builds a framework in your audience’s mind, making it easier to add details later.
  2. It hooks their interest by showing the significance of the topic.
  3. It makes complex information less overwhelming.

It sets the stage and makes all the details that follow easier to connect. Then, as you get into specifics, they can see how each piece fits into the bigger picture. This approach helps keep everyone on the same page from start to finish.

Break It Down into Simple Terms

After setting the stage with the big picture, the next step is to break down the topic into digestible pieces. The goal is to make complex ideas accessible to anyone, regardless of their starting point. 

Aim for simple and clear:

  • Drop the fancy words. Use everyday language.
  • Explain one idea at a time.
  • Offer examples that relate to everyday experiences.

You want to ensure that with each step, your audience is nodding along, not scratching their heads. It’s like teaching someone to cook: you wouldn’t throw them into a five-course meal without first showing them how to boil an egg. Keep it light, friendly, and digestible.

Use Analogies and Metaphors

Analogies and metaphors are powerful tools for explaining complex ideas in simpler terms. They work by linking the new information to something familiar, making it easier for your audience to grasp. 

For instance, you might explain the internet as a highway system where information travels just like cars on the road. This imagery helps people understand abstract concepts by relating them to everyday experiences.

But remember, when choosing analogies or metaphors, ensure they’re relevant and easy for your audience to relate to. The right metaphor can illuminate a concept, while the wrong one can confuse more than clarify.

"When trying to explain things to other people, then, we need to take this into account, to try and put ourselves in their place, to use common language that everyone can relate to such as metaphors (you might want to prepare these in advance since it's pretty hard to come up with great metaphors at the moment)."

— Kuba Koziej | Senior Vice President and Head of Operations, Zety

Tell a Story

Everyone loves a good story, and storytelling can be a powerful tool when explaining things. Stories create a narrative that people can follow. Start by setting the scene—where is this happening, who is involved, and what’s at stake? Then, guide your audience through the events as they unfold.

Consider these points:

  • Focus on a simple storyline that supports the message you’re trying to convey.
  • Keep it relevant to the topic and relatable to your audience’s experiences.
  • Build a connection; draw a link between the story and the point it illustrates.

A well-told story can leave a lasting impression, making the concept memorable long after the explanation is done.

"People do not remember facts and figures but if you tell them a story that touches them emotionally you get their attention and they want to hear more.

People need to be educated, informed and/or entertained so figure out how best to tell your story in a way that makes them pay attention and breaks through the noise."

— Paige Arnof-Fenn | CEO, Mavens and Moguls

Use Examples and Case Studies

Bringing in examples and case studies strengthens your explanations by showing real-world applications or outcomes. They turn the abstract into reality, making it easier for people to grasp your point.

When selecting examples or case studies, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Choose ones that are directly relevant to your key points.
  • Ensure they’re simple enough to be easily understood yet detailed enough to be meaningful.
  • Reflect on different scenarios or outcomes to provide a broader understanding.

Examples should illuminate, and case studies should deepen understanding. They work best when they resonate with your audience, providing them with “aha” moments where the theory clicks with practice. Whether it’s a success story or a cautionary tale, what matters is that it sticks.

Relate to Personal Experiences

When you can tie a concept to your or your audience’s experiences, it instantly becomes more relatable. Sharing how a particular theory applies to something you or someone else has lived through adds a human touch to the information. 

I mean, it’s one thing to talk about principles of psychology in theory, but illustrating them through a personal story about overcoming fear or making a difficult decision can bring those principles to life. This method helps the audience see the practical application of theories and concepts in their lives.

"We often use analogies to take a concept and make it more relatable to a person—not only does this immediately introduce an element that they are familiar with, but it also forms a 'bridge' that they can use to bind a more complex component with a simpler one."

— Quincy Smith | Co-Founder, ESL Authority

Engage with Visuals

Visuals are a game-changer when it comes to explaining complex information. Diagrams, charts, images, and videos can convey what words alone sometimes cannot. They offer a different pathway for understanding, particularly for visual learners. 

Whether it’s a graph showing trends over time or illustrations breaking down the parts of a cell, visuals can: 

  • Complement your words and enhance comprehension
  • Simplify complex information
  • Grab and hold attention better than text alone
  • Be effective for comparison and highlighting relationships

Avoid Jargon

Jargon can create barriers between you and your audience, especially if they’re new to the subject. Explaining things in simple language ensures that your information is accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or expertise. 

You could do this by substituting complex terms with simpler words or phrases, and if you must use specific terms, define them clearly.

Remember, the goal is to communicate effectively, not to impress with technical terms and fancy lingo.

"Take care not to speak about the subject on an expert level... You may have your Ph.D. in the topic, but the listener is just looking for a layman's understanding. So, instead of trying to give a Ph.D. dissertation level answer, meet the person where they are."

— Kimberly Tucker | Licensed Mental Health Therapist | Clinical Director, Pineapples Therapy

Structure Your Thoughts Clearly

Presenting your points in a well-organized manner is essential. Clear structure in your explanation ensures that you don’t lose your audience along the way. 

Here’s a simple method to keep your thoughts organized:

  1. Start with an outline of your main points.
  2. Group related information together.
  3. Move from broad concepts to specific details.
  4. Summarize each section before moving to the next.

A well-structured explanation helps maintain focus, making it easier for your audience to absorb and retain information.

"Think ahead of time and consider what you'll need to explain and how you'll do it for maximum impact. You don't need to have a full-fledged speech written down. In fact, a quick list of key bullet points with your key message will do the trick."

— Bart Turczynski | Editor-in-Chief, ResumeLab

Speak Clearly and Slowly

Clear and slow speech is the backbone of good communication. It’s about giving your words space to breathe so they can be fully understood. Rushing through your explanation can muddle your message, making it challenging for listeners to keep up. 

So, pace yourself. Enunciate each word, and don’t be afraid of short pauses—they give others time to digest what you’ve said.

Think of it as though you’re reading a story aloud. You wouldn’t speed through the climax or mumble through the plot twist—you’d let each moment have its impact.

Show, Don’t Just Tell

Showing rather than just telling breathes life into your explanations. It’s not enough to simply describe; you need to make the listeners or readers feel like they’re part of the story. This could be through a live demonstration, a hands-on activity, or a compelling narrative that paints a vivid picture.

For example, if you’re explaining how a gadget works, don’t just talk about its features—demo it in action. Or when discussing a historical event, bring visuals or artifacts that transport people back in time.

Remember, people will often forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Engaging multiple senses with your explanation helps ensure the message sticks.

Use Repetition Wisely

Repetition is a valuable tool for emphasizing key points and ensuring they stick. Repeating the same information in various ways can help cement ideas without making your audience feel like you’re just rehashing old points. However, it’s important to use repetition wisely.

Here’s how you can do it effectively:

  • Recap your main points at different stages throughout your explanation.
  • Reiterate complex ideas after breaking them down.
  • Use varied phrasing to keep it fresh.

Repeating information doesn’t mean being a broken record. It’s about reinforcing ideas until they’re clear and memorable. 

Manage Your Non-Verbal Cues

It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. Your body language speaks volumes when explaining things. To ensure your non-verbal cues are on point, remember this:

  • Keep your posture open and inviting.
  • Use hand gestures to convey enthusiasm and emphasize points.
  • Make sure your facial expressions match the tone of your message.

These non-verbal signals can reinforce what you’re saying and help drive the point home. They contribute to the overall effectiveness of your communication—so stay mindful of them.

"Effective communication sets the foundation for a good explanation. In order to communicate effectively, it is important to support your verbal messages with the appropriate body language."

— Jessica Robinson | Senior Content Manager, The Speaking Polymath

Add Some Humor

A little humor goes a long way in making explanations more memorable. A light joke or a witty comment can break the ice, especially when dealing with challenging topics. 

However, humor should be appropriate and sensitive to your audience’s context. It’s not about making your session a stand-up comedy show but about lightening the mood and keeping the atmosphere friendly, so use it appropriately and sparingly.

When done right, humor can be a powerful ally in explaining things, but remember, the aim is to clarify, not confuse. Keep it light, keep it bright, and keep it tight to the topic at hand.

End with a Summary

Wrapping up with a summary is your chance to make sure the key points stick. After you’ve taken your audience on an informative journey, bring it all back home with a concise overview. 

This is where you:

  • Highlight the main ideas you’ve covered.
  • Tie back to the big picture you started with.
  • Leave them with a clear takeaway.

This structured conclusion helps solidify the information in your audience’s minds, making them more likely to remember and understand the material.

"Recalling and structuring information in a framework with a logical flow with a 'conclusion' to give the full picture to the receiver of the information further induces clarity and understanding."

— Allen Koh | CEO, Cardinal Education

Encourage Questions

Inviting your audience to ask questions does two things. First, it helps you gauge whether they’re following along. Second, it makes your explanation a two-way street. 

So, after sharing your insights, throw the ball into their court with a “What do you think?” or “I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.” It’s a sign of a welcoming and open discussion where everyone involved is actively learning and participating.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is crucial when explaining things. It’s not just about waiting for your turn to speak; it’s about truly understanding the feedback or questions from your audience.  Focusing on their responses allows you to tailor your explanation to better meet their needs and clear up any confusion. 

Active listening involves:

  • Nodding and making eye contact to show you’re engaged.
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing their questions or comments to ensure you’ve understood them correctly.
  • Responding thoughtfully to their queries.

This approach ensures that explanations are two-way, making the learning process more effective for everyone involved.

Let Your Passion Shine Through

When you’re excited about what you’re talking about, it’s infectious. Your enthusiasm can spark interest and keep your audience engaged. Your energy can turn even the most complex or dry topic into something fascinating. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to be overly animated or forceful. Instead, let your genuine interest and excitement come through in your words and approach. It’s about making your audience feel that what you share is worth their time and attention. When you care, they care.

Adjust Your Explanation Based on Feedback

Responding to feedback is vital when explaining things. Let’s say you’ve just finished explaining a complex concept, and someone furrows their brow, looking a little lost. That’s your cue. It’s time to adjust. 

Maybe you could:

  • Break the concept down even further.
  • Provide a different analogy that might resonate better.
  • Slow down and go over it again, checking if they’re with you this time.

The goal is to be in tune with your audience’s responses and ready to shift gears if needed. Their feedback is like a compass guiding you toward a clearer understanding. It’s not just about getting through your material; it’s about making sure it lands.

"When in doubt, solicit questions and feedback. In this way, you can gauge where your audience is in terms of understanding what you're saying."

— Charlene Walters |Writer and Speaker | Business & Branding Mentor, Own Your Other

Demonstrate Patience

Patience is crucial when explaining complex ideas. Everyone has their own pace of learning. Some might grasp concepts quickly, while others may need more time or different examples.

Think of it like teaching someone to ride a bike. You wouldn’t expect them to speed off after one try, right? Some might need a few more rounds before they’re ready to roll solo. 

Patience shows you’re supportive and committed to their learning journey. It tells your audience that it’s alright not to get everything right away, which can speed up the learning process by removing pressure and fear of judgment.

Motivate Your Audience to Take Action

An explanation becomes truly powerful when it motivates your audience to take action. Toward the end of your explanation, aim to highlight why taking this new knowledge and applying it is worthwhile. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Clearly express the benefits of putting the information into practice.
  • Suggest clear and manageable steps they can take to get started.
  • Share the positive outcomes you’ve experienced by taking action yourself.

When people see a valuable and achievable goal in sight, they’re much more likely to step forward and act on what they’ve learned.

Encourage Brainstorming

Brainstorming opens up a world of possibilities and can be a fantastic follow-up to an explanation. It invites everyone to apply their new knowledge creatively and collaboratively. 

Here’s how to get it started:

  1. Ask open-ended questions that encourage thinking beyond the information presented.
  2. Foster an environment where all suggestions are welcomed and valued.
  3. Guide the brainstorming session with prompts related to key points from your explanation.

When your audience starts brainstorming, it not only shows they understand the material, but they’re also engaging with it in a meaningful way.

"In general, the more collaborative the learning process, the better for retention and mastery, so allow the person you are explaining to a chance to participate as you talk about the process."

— Charlene Walters |Writer and Speaker | Business & Branding Mentor, Own Your Other

Use Compare and Contrast

Comparing and contrasting related concepts or ideas is a powerful way to clarify differences and similarities, helping your audience grasp complex information more easily. 

Consider these points:

  • Choose two or more ideas that are relevant to your topic.
  • Discuss each idea separately before highlighting their differences and similarities.
  • Use visual aids, like charts or Venn diagrams, to visually represent the comparison.

For example, if you’re explaining different leadership styles, you could compare the directive and participative approaches by highlighting how each influences team dynamics and decision-making processes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I practice and improve my explaining skills?

Practice explaining things to friends, family, or colleagues and ask for their feedback on clarity and engagement. You can also record yourself explaining a topic and review the recording to identify areas for improvement.

Additionally, study great explainers and educators to learn from their techniques.

Is it better to keep explanations short or provide detailed information?

It depends on your audience’s needs and the context. Generally, starting with a concise overview is best, and then you can provide more detail if the audience shows further interest or needs deeper understanding.

How can repetition be used effectively without becoming monotonous?

Repetition should emphasize key points and aid retention. To avoid monotony, present the information in different formats or contexts and space out repetitions so they reinforce without overloading.

What’s the best way to handle someone interrupting my explanation with a question?

Welcome interruptions as a sign of engagement. Address the question respectfully and use it to clarify points that may not have been clear. It can also guide you on which parts of your explanation require more detail.

How do I know when to stop explaining?

Look for cues from your audience, such as nodding in agreement or expressing understanding. You can also directly ask if they need more information or if they feel confident about the topic. Respect their time and attention by not extending the explanation unnecessarily.

Final Thoughts

Explaining things is a skill that you can master with practice and patience. Remember, the goal is not to impress people with your knowledge but to help them understand and learn.

As you go forward, keep practicing these techniques. Pay attention to how people respond to your explanations, and be open to feedback. With time and effort, you’ll find that explaining things becomes second nature.

And who knows? You might even discover a new passion for teaching and sharing knowledge along the way.

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Robby is a multimedia editor at UpJourney with a journalism and communications background.

When she's not working, Robby transforms into an introverted art lover who indulges in her love for sports, learning new things, and sipping her favorite soda. She also enjoys unwinding with feel-good movies, books, and video games. She's also a proud pet parent to her beloved dog, Dustin.