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Notes, Ideas and News from the Explainer Academy
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Lessons From a Poor Explanation

Hello Explainers!

We are always on the lookout for interesting examples of explanations, good and bad. The challenge, of course, is that most explanations depend on the circumstance. To analyze an explanation, you have to consider the goal of the communicator and the intended audience.  

Essentially, if an explanation works for the intended audience, it works. 

There are, of course, examples where the intended audience is almost everyone. A great example is public safety messages, which require a special focus on the audience.

For Example: Don’t Drive Through Standing Water

A couple of weeks ago, much of South Carolina received about two feet of rain in three days and The Weather Channel, of course, was on point.

One of the big public safety messages during the storm was the dangers of driving through standing or flowing water and, to their credit, they produced a segment to explain the danger.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they thought enough about their audience's needs. Let's consider a couple of important factors:

  • Assumed goal: Save lives. Help people understand WHY it’s dangerous to drive through standing water.
  • Intended audience: Weather channel viewers, particularly in flooding areas.

I've included a few screenshots from the segment below, with my notes. 



Any why does this matter to the audience? Seriously, what does the weight of water have to do with the message?

500 pounds of lateral force! That's... not useful to many people.



Cars weigh 1,500lbs less because of water displacement! How much does a car weigh anyway?

What Could Have Been Better

I applaud The Weather Channel for producing this, but I think it could have been so much better.  Here are the problems I see:

Too many technical details: Few viewers are likely to care about the math and physics or how to use them. 

Complex language: Lateral force. Buoyancy. Water displacement. Momentum. Is this how their audience communicates? Is this familiar language to them?

Big ideas are hidden: The big idea here is that cars float and get washed into dangerous situations. That's it. The danger is that cars float. 

The Solution is Simple

I can't say this enough: the audience and their needs should be the starting point for everything.  Did anyone at The Weather Channel look at the segment and ask the key question: Is this understandable to our audience? I doubt it.

From my perspective, they traded technical accuracy for clear communication and it likely reduced their ability to have more of an impact. 

To conclude... The next time there is a flood near you, remember - cars float!

That's it for now. If you enjoy this newsletter and please feel free to forward it to a friend or point them to explaineracademy.com

Cheers!

~Lee and Sachi

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