How to be a better idea communicator

A quick guide on relaying ideas and concepts to others
An illustration of a book with an arrow pointing to a human brain and another to speech bubble.

TL;DR: read with your critical mind on (stop and scrutinize the idea you just read about), summarize what you learn in writing, and be aware of the curse of knowledge (once you know something you assume others know it too, and you take shortcuts when explaining it).

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you've read about an idea, you got excited by said idea, you meet a friend and want to tell them about this idea. You open your mouth and… you trip over your thoughts and end up butchering the idea.

I struggle with this every day. It's hard for me to convey an idea, I've read about. Yet, I've come to realize it's one of the most important life skills. Leveraging concepts I've educated myself on to gain an audience, getting people excited about a topic I care about - all this is easier if I can relay ideas in a digestible and captivating way.

What follows are a few learnings I've made while trying to become a better idea communicator.

Paying attention to what I'm reading

The first thing I've realized on my journey is that I'm not paying the right kind of attention to what I'm reading. It's not that my thoughts would be somewhere else, I'm there in the moment. But I read without my critical mind on.

This led me to my first experiment - when I come across a thought that sparks my imagination I stop and think about it for a second. Just enough to scrutinize it a bit, but not enough to get sidetracked on a tangent. This helps me form an opinion of my own, in a way it converts a previously foreign idea into my own.

Practicing summarization

I've listened to a podcast with Dave Perell of Write of Passage, where he makes a great point - when you come across someone who's very eloquent with their ideas, there is a high likelihood they've written that thought down multiple times. That's the secret trick that allows them to be so clear and concise. The act of writing something down is like going down on your brain with a hammer and a chisel. It makes a thought stick.

It's tedious and takes time, but when I know I've come across an idea I'm going to want to share with others I write it down in a few bullets.

Breaking things down

Writing what you've learned down has a secondary benefit - you can re-read it. This allows you to: - Realize that an idea is part of a larger context and when I'm going to share it with others I need to make sure the context is not lost on them. - Reading it out loud helps me identify where exactly I'm butchering the idea - where I'm taking shortcuts, and where I'm going into too much detail making it hard for my hypothetical listener to understand.

The Curse of Knowledge

Understanding this cognitive bias helped me realize why I make shortcuts when explaining something to others.

In short: once we know something it’s hard to imagine not knowing it. Because we are lazy creatures, the curse of knowledge leads us to make shortcuts in our explanations since we assume others have the necessary background to understand us.

I'm challenging myself to realize this when I talk about new concepts and ideas and provide my audience with the necessary background.

Connecting ideas

We are all different in what we've learned throughout life. My background is in design and I will look at the world differently than an engineer might. I have a unique perspective on the world.

With interesting ideas, I ask myself: how is it connected to me personally, how can I enrich the thought with my own experience?

Why I'm investing time and energy into this?

For me, the goal is to be a more active member of the indie hacker community. I've learned so much from these people and I want to be able to give back. Sharing what I've learned with them is a powerful way to do it. Whatever your goal may be, being a better idea communicator is one of those universal skills that can help you every day.