Treat Me Like I’m 11


Tell it to me like I’m a really smart kid. This is the advice used in bluefeet workshops and coaching sessions, especially when the subject matter is technical or the industry filled with jargon.

And it works – almost like magic.

I first discovered this when working with a stem cell scientist who was mired in academic speak, a fate even worse than corporate speak. He had a son who was 11, old enough to understand science, but still a kid.

“Explain this to me like you’d explain it to your son,” I told him.

All of the sudden, Mr. Academic Scientist became interesting – a human being who talks to other human beings in clear, compelling language, the kind that makes connections.

I’ve used this technique ever since, with excellent results, so I was pleased to discover The Flame Challenge, where kids judge scientists on their explanation skills. It’s part of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at SUNY, Stony Brook.

Apparently, I was onto something. In The Flame Challenge, a bunch of smart 11-year-olds pick a question every year and ask scientists to submit their answers.

This year’s question: What is color? Last year it was: What is time? Kids from all over the world judge the submissions, which can be offered in writing, video or graphics.

Winners are honored at the World Science Festival in New York. You can meet the winners here.

Whether your subject is science, business or the business of science, the following quote from Carl Safina, conservationist, author and founding president of Blue Ocean Institute at SUNY, is a reminder of why clear communication is so important.

“If you choose not to communicate what you do, your work will be increasingly irrelevant. Even worse, you will condemn the rest of us to receive information from sources who may be ignorant or those who would seek to distort or misinform for their own gain.”

In other words, you need to tell your story, the story of your expertise. Otherwise, someone else will tell it for you, and that may not be the right story at all.