The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a layman as “a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field” and layman’s terms as “simple language that anyone can understand.”*
In a more interconnected world, with disciplines crossing and influencing areas outside their own area of expertise, it’s more important than ever to use language that is understood by people outside your discipline.
Whether you are a civil engineer working with landscape architects or mental health expert researching alternative therapies, you want to consider talking to a broad audience in a way that they are capable of grasping your main ideas even if they’ve never heard about the topic.
This becomes even more relevant when your audience comes from around the globe and English is a second language.
I’ve translated and edited academic papers filled with complex language and sentence structure, industry jargon and acronyms. They are often unintelligible upon first reading and require several readings (and lots of editing) to transform them into something that people actually want to read and publish.
There is a misguided believe that the more complex our writing and presentations, the more knowledgeable we are about our topic.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
We don’t have to make it hard for our readers and listeners. While me may know a lot, optimizing our knowledge is also about learning to share your information and vision with empathy and a true respect for your audiences and readers.
When we say “speak to the layman” it means speak to those people who are not directly related to your area of expertise. Consider how to make your presentation so clear, understandable and relatable that you can actually educate people outside your field.
It’s not about downgrading your knowledge or your English, but rather considering the broad scope of skills, talents and expertise in your audience and how your experience and data can be used by them to inform other areas.
Scientific findings do not have to be boring.
Research and expertise can be presented in a way that is as interesting as the findings and facts themselves. This is why authors like psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson sell so many books: they talk to us, the laymen, in a language that we know and can understand and make us fall in love with their subjects. They speak to us as intelligent people outside their main area of expertise and explain and describe and narrate by painting pictures with words and experiences, allowing us to become enthralled as we begin to understand something we’ve never even considered before. They educate us without overloading us with technical terms and broaden our understanding of humanity and the universe and so we are grateful for doing the work for us.
Unfortunately, often experts in a field, from academics and researchers, to artists and engineers, can often lose touch with the “outside world”. When we do, we narrow down our audience. To avoid this, try to keep in mind how you would explain your topic to a friend or family member and consider some of the following:
- Use images and analogies to paint pictures in the mind of your audience. This also makes your presentation much more appealing because you create a story and an emotional connection. Which ties in with…
- Use real life experience and case studies that the audience can connect to emotionally. Essentially: How does your presentation apply to real life?
- Keep technical terms to a minimum and define them. Don’t assume everybody knows what you are talking about. Explain.
- Avoid acronyms or use them minimally.
- Shorten your sentences. Whether talking or writing. Learn to pause after important ideas. Give your audience time to assimilate or your reader time to breathe and integrate.
- Avoid long paragraphs (or long text on your ppt. presentation. Remember, they’re just reminders).
7. Remain humble, but share your excitement!
If you keep these tips in mind as you prepare your paper or presentation, you’ll be doing your audience and readers a favor. With so much noise in the world, we are always grateful when someone shares information in a clear, concise, and warm way in a language we can understand.
So, thank you!
* Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/layman%27s%20terms
How can I help you?
If you think you would like some help with strengthening your abilities to transmit your messages effectively and powerfully in English, please feel free to connect and send me a DM and we can schedule a free 30-minute consultation session to discuss your concerns and your priorities.
Let me know how I can help you.
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