Take Some Tips from the Best of the Best: Use Magic and a Bit of Stardust
That's it. I'll tell them, Ivan. My friend Ivan called from Alaska and quipped that I need to go to Washington to tell them how to explain the stimulus package so people understand. I said, "Hey, that's what my newsletter is about this month, The Art of Explaining Things!" Then my Persuasion class at Barry University decided that the White House needs to explain the stimulus package in a way that the people in Liberty City understand! (Liberty City is a particularly rough area in Miami, the home of many historical racial riots). "So that," I said, "is your final exam!" They screamed. I was joking.
But I did think about my hero, the best 'explainer' in the universe; the man who explained physics to millions; the man who explained the Space Shuttle Challenger's o-ring problem on live TV in the 1980s; the late physicist and Renaissance Man, Richard Feynman. I discovered Mr. Feynman's gift when I checked out his 1963 lectures on Physics from the library. I was hungry for thought on long boring drives. Little did I know that Feynman would pack my imagination into a rocket, and shoot me to the moon!
My brain was never the same after listening to Richard Feynman. I was amazed at how smart I was, and how much I knew about Physics. He said that we are made of stardust, the same particles that make up the stars, and now I understood chemistry of the universe, completely. He took me to a new point of view.
When Feynman explained nanotechnology, he described how we could write the 24 volumes of the encyclopedia Britanica on the head of a pin. When he explained the fun of understanding systems, he called the workings of machines 'the guts'. The examples go on and on. I could listen to Feynman forever. Feynman is the acknowledged inventor of quantum computing, an expert in nanotechnology, but he was gifted in explaining highly complex things to ordinary people. (And he had so much fun at it!) We loved to listen to him, and gave him the Nobel prize. Feynman died of Cancer in 1988. The world lost one of its comets.
So I began to study Richard Feynman: the way he talked, his brave and courageous way of living life and explaining life. How did he do it? How can I learn (and teach) the magical techniques of this gifted communicator? How can I use Richard Feynman's style to help people learn to motivate others, captivate audiences, win clients, influence and inspire people? After reading most of his books, and books written about him, I came up with some ideas to practice communicating as dazzling as Richard Feynman.
5 Ways To Explain Things so People Remember Them – Feynman Style
1. Use vivid, visual words. (Create a visual snapshot in people's minds). For example, Feynman uses jumping into a pool to explain light.
2. Evoke the senses: Feynman explains the space shuttle Challenger accident with a glass of ice-water on TV, and dropped the shuttle's o-ring in it, clamped. When he pulled it out, it remained misshapen when the clamp was removed – showing that the cold prevented the o-rings from contracting!
3. Break down information into a journey. For example, you can use train trips and each point is stop. You can use a flight, a mountain climb, a hike. Feynman used "exploring a new continent" to explain nature. He said, "We see water and call it a river because that's what we know. But actually, it's a lake!"
4. Make up a metaphor, use something people know. Turn complex things into things that we know and which we can relate. I use "self-esteem does not arrive by FedEx" to explain that you must learn and apply techniques to raise your own self-esteem.
5. Do not explain something the boring way, no one will remember it. Be brave, be different. After practicing metaphors in my coaching session, one of my clients created a brilliant metaphor to explain a quantity of liquid used in his manufacturing process. Instead of "ml" or "milliliter" he said the amount of liquid "equivalent to the weight of the ink in a fingerprint." (Bravo, George! Now that is a Feynman-style thing, something people remember!)
You Can Practice! Two Feynman-Style exercises to help you transform your 'tech-talk' or 'sales talk' into music:
1. Imagine your information as a place. Feynman used a pool. You can imagine your 'thing' as a building! Take auditing, for example. What does the entrance way of auditing look like? When you enter a room, what do you see? What does the basement look like? This technique works for flight safety as easy as it works for the steps in mediation or meditation! Play with your visual journey until you perfect your message in a way people can "see" what you are explaining. You may have to experiment with several places before you find the right one that works.
2. Choose an unrelated object, like an orange, or something odd. People will connect your information to the visual and will remember what you are saying. Be unusual. For example, use an orange to explain a mortgage! (What happens when you turn it into juice?) Have some "Feynman" fun! I was coaching a client on how to present her complex natural therapy in 5 major steps. We used the poster in the room – a Dr. Seuss poster of the "Cat and the Hat" – to move from point to point. All five points fit the five things the cat was juggling! (She did not use the poster in her presentation, but she mastered the technique of helping people move from step to step.) And that's the "Feynman-style" trick of getting people to REMEMBER what you are saying. (Hooray, Amy!)
Try these exercises to explain anything: your relationships, your business, your service, your product, your vision, physics, or (yes!) Even stimulus plans! It takes some practice to acquire the skill, but it's fun, and highly effective. You will not find your answers on your first try, but you get better at it!
Mr. Feynman, you did much more than teach us physics, you taught us the art of explaining things!
"If you have any talent, or any occupation that delights you, do it, and do it to the hilt.
Do not ask why, or what difficulties you may get into. "
– Richard Feynman
Hear more about the techniques of Richard Feynman and other Excellent Communicators in Lisa's
"The Art of Being Memorable" Workshop and Keynote
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