If you work in a technical field, there is an automatic stigma about you: you are incapable of communicating technical concepts to the lay person.

Recently I’ve been putting a lot of thought into communications and how I can improve my marketing material and a big part of that has involved conversations with a wide variety of people about our various products.

I’m also the primary point of contact for any and all support questions from our customers so I spend a great deal of time explaining technical issues to non-technical people.

It started to dawn on me that people were still telling me that I’m being too technical – even when I knew that I wasn’t.

How can I tell I wasn’t being too technical? Because sometimes people understood. It’s not that the people who understood were any more technically competent than those who didn’t, and it’s not that those who understood were any smarter. It’s just that they took the mental effort to think about it for a moment.

So is it just luck then that we manage to catch people when they have time to think? Well, that was my first thought: I just have to increase the number of people I communicate with in the hope that I’ll catch enough of them just at the point when they’re feeling receptive.

What if there were a way to increase people’s receptiveness?

The other day we released our first public beta product based on Decal CMS using StackLayout CSS.

The video, the copy – I thought it was perfect. It was, in my mind, the pinnacle of my short marketing and communications career.

I sent out a big email to everyone I knew (and “knew” here is stretched to basically anyone who’d ever sent me an email) and one of the recipients was Will Franco, A.K.A FlyWheel from Jive Systems who specialise in creating and sending video email campaings.

I never heard back from him after that initial mailout but when he sent me his latest newsletter I replied “Hey so what did you think of the release?”.

He replied (in summary) that it was wordy and impersonal and not “sticky” and various other things that were certainly not what I was expecting – given that I thought I had really hit the nail on the head with my marketing material this time.

My first reaction was “urr, hold on are we looking at the same page here?”, but he linked me through to this video, and watching it changed my whole perception of business, marketing and communications (both personal and professional).

It’s a TED talk by Simon Sinek about why certain companies succeed in inspiring, leading and innovating whilst others with the same resources, products and technical capacity fail. If you haven’t clicked the link to watch that video yet, here it is in bigger font:

Go watch this video now

One of the biggest take aways from that talk is “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” and Simon really hammers home that point.

There was something else, though, that stuck with me even more – and it’s kind of the “slowest” part of the speech where he starts talking about biology and the lymbic system and blah blah blah science whatever (that’s literally how I remember that section of the talk in my head) and the conclusion is that people make decisions with a part of their brain incapable of understanding language.

So what is the most important decision people are making when you’re trying to communicate with them? They’re making the decision to understand you.

Understanding is a decision

This may sound callous, but what this made me realise is that when people tell me I’m being too technical, much of the time what they’re saying is “You haven’t convinced me that I should take the time or effort to understand you”.

They’re actually deciding that I’m not worth understanding – and they’re making that decision with a part of their brain that cannot be reasoned with using words alone.

This means that you need to start off by convincing the “gut instinct” part of them that what you’re about to say (or sell or what they should go to the store and buy right now) is worthwhile to them.

That they had better make the effort to understand/obtain what you’re saying/selling/offering them because otherwise the’ll be missing out on something amazing.

Obviously the smaller the effort that’s required, the more likely they are to make the decision in your favour so yes things have to be easy to use, and you have to use non-technical language and make your products intuitive and all that stuff.

The biggest message that I’m taking away from the TED talk by Simon Sinek is that even if you do all that stuff perfectly there are a large number of people who simply won’t take even the smallest effort to engage with your product/business/company.

I think that what he’s really saying is that by motivating people and telling them why you’re doing what you’re doing initially so that they take up your cause as their own, you’ll find that people will jump over incredible technical hurdles you never thought possible in your wildest dreams to engage with your product.

Have you watched the video yet?