One of my many obsessions in the field of training is how to master an explanation. The ability to explain a concept clearly, and in a short amount of time, is extremely useful for training.  Especially when people can start using what I’ve explained straight away.

But getting a perfect explanation is not always easy. It normally takes many attempts, and many revisions, before I arrive at a decent explanation. Through those attempts, I gradually figure out the best questions to ask, the best examples to use and so on.

But a lot of my decent explanations all have one thing in common; they start with the end.

I noticed this first when I tried explaining the rules of my favourite board game (Settlers of Catan) to my friends. I would start with the end goal; “the goal is to get 10 points”, and then work backwards from there.

I notice it as well whenever I set up an activity or explain a concept during training. If I’m explaining an activity, I start by explaining the goal. If I’m explaining a concept, I start by explaining the problem it solves. This helps build interest, because they can now see the reason to listen to the rest of my explanation. It also builds context for later points. They can now reference those new points against the end goal to see how they fit into the bigger picture.

It’s really very simple, all you need to do is start with the end state. So, if you struggle to explain something at work, then start by describing:

  • The desired outcome
  • The problem you want to solve
  • The benefits your audience can gain

And as you describe those, make it really vivid, so describe what that end state:

  • Looks like
  • Sounds like
  • Feels like

Then once they’ve got that outcome, work backwards and show them step by step how to achieve that outcome.

It’s that simple. So, start with the end.