on non-technical communication

I love computers. I am self-taught on this subject, but am fairly conversant with how they work. When a techno-geek starts “talking techie to me”, I can usually follow a good bit of the conversation.

But, alas, there is a point where the tech can lose me. I’m not that computer literate after all.

In any technical field, be it the arcane nuances of computer networking or the intricacies of the hypostatic union, those ‘in the know’ find themselves afflicted with their own jargon – terms that mean much to the speaker, but almost nothing to the hearer.

If you would be an effective communicator, what to do?

A technical blog over at Tech Republic gives us some insight. Learn to communicate using effective analogies. In “Use analogies to explain technical subjects to end users“, Toni Bowers suggests communicating unfamiliar concepts with similar familiar ones.

Analogies can be used on an everyday basis, as in explaining to an end user why he can’t access secure Web sites. You could say, “If the cipher strength of your browser is inadequate, you will not get into secure Web sites.” I can tell you right now that that will mean nothing to the average end user. Instead, you can say that not having proper encryption means that that person has security clearance to enter a building but may not be able to get into all areas. In order to do that, he needs to “upgrade his security clearance status” (adjust the encryption). And then show him how to do that. A file allocation table can be compared to a library card catalogue. IP addresses can be compared to phone numbers — for one phone to communicate with another, both must have unique numbers in the phone system. If a user asks why his browser is running slow, you compare it to a busy highway. Too many users are using the service — that’s like too many cars on a road at rush hour.

This advice is on target.

If you are a preacher, it is even more on target. The subtleties of the text we preach are easily lost on our people. Some seem to opt for a shallow kind of relational preaching, addressing ‘felt needs’ (a jargon word if there ever was one!) rather than proclaiming the text.

If you really will proclaim the text, however, you are going to have to learn to communicate it in a way that people understand. I am not advocating a ‘dumbing it down’ approach. Rather, I am advocating a ‘lifting our people’ up to the level of the text so that our hearers come to comprehend the full meaning the text carries.

Of course, we all know that already, right?



  1. Giving the “sense.”