We’ve all had the experience of listening to someone speak and feeling like it’s going over our heads. We know they’re talking, and we know they’re talking about something, but for some reason their words seem to go in one ear and come out the other. You’ve probably experienced this at a university lecture before, or listening to an IT technician.

The reason words might go over our heads and fail to make any impression on us is because they’re too abstract. They’re far beyond anything we can relate to.

In order to process information, we need to have something in our minds to reference the incoming information against. If I say “dog” your mind will bring up images and sounds of dogs to help you deduce meaning from that word. But when we hear foreign words, jargon, or concepts we’ve never encountered before, we have nothing to reference against so we can’t take anything in.

The key to making something easy to relate to is to describe it in ways that people can picture.

Every piece of information we take in about the world around us comes in through our five senses. You taste the coffee, smell the warm chocolate cake on the table, feel the comfy seat beneath you, hear the people chattering away around you, and look at the computer screen in front of you. If we choose words that connect to the five senses then those words become easy to relate to. We call this kind of language vivid language.

Dont think of a blue dog.

You’re probably thinking of a blue dog right now. And the reason is because those two words ‘blue’ and ‘dog’ are the only vivid words in that sentence. The other words ‘Don’t think of a’ are more abstract; they don’t really mean anything to you so your brain fails to process them.

So the next time you need to explain how to use a smartphone to your elderly grandparents, or explain to your boss why the regional sales are down, put it into words that they can easily picture. This will make sure your words go straight into their heads and have a much bigger impact.