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How to explain complicated ideas to non-experts

9:36 AM  Dec 15th, 2017
by Shannon Shelton Miller

Whether we work in highly specialized fields like medicine or technology or happen to be making a health care speech on Capitol Hill, our messages must be delivered in a way most can understand.

All UD students regardless of major spend a semester learning that skill in Principles of Oral Communication, a Common Academic Program course that teaches the foundations of making information clear to particular audiences and promoting civil discourse in the process.

Coordinated by communication lecturer Jason Combs, the course incorporates input from professors across academic units whose disciplines have their own communication challenges.  The textbook created especially for the course teaches students to start with the big picture. And then, they’re off:

Know your topic

The communicator must have a strong grasp of the topic’s concrete principles. With that level of understanding, he or she can then determine the best ways to connect with the audience. Sharing a story to illustrate the idea is often helpful.

 Choose wisely

Decide what’s most important, and present only that information. It’s better to pick a smaller amount of information and have the audience
retain all of it than to present a larger amount with minimal retention.

Ask questions

This helps facilitate understanding and generate ethical dialogue.

Remain civil

“The goal is understanding, not debate,” said Joe Valenzano III, chair of the Department of Communication. “The goal is not to change another person’s position, but to get a better understanding of why people think the way they do.”

Know your audience

“This class taught me to increase my awareness of what I communicate,” said senior Kayla McLaughlin, a student in the School of Business Administration who added communication as a minor after taking the class. “I focus on how to say something in front of different people so they’re receiving exactly what I want them to know.”

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