Communications 101: Translate Technical Information Into Understandable Concepts and Messaging

Upon joining the Nuclear Energy Institute as media relations director some years ago — and running smack dab into the significant amount of jargon unique to the industry — one of the first things I did was ask a member of the design team to create a “Death to Acronyms” sign for me. He came back with a highly creative, 8″ x 10″ sign featuring skull-and-crossbones lettering that I hung on my wall for anyone and everyone entering my office to see. The sign served as a constant reminder to me — and I believe as a challenge to others — that effective communications hinged on our willingness and determination to take highly technical information endemic to the industry and convert it into concepts and messaging understandable by the layman.

This belief that technical matters need not remain technical is why this Dave Lieber column in The Dallas Morning News strikes a chord with me. Dave’s lament, “Translating ERCOT jargon is like rolling a boulder uphill,” is one that every communications professional — no matter what the industry or organization — needs to keep foremost in mind daily. Whether the deliverable is talking points, a news release, a tweet, a video, a fact sheet, media training, an infographic — it is incumbent upon communicators to translate information from the technical side of the house so that it is digestible by the general public. If we fail to do that, we’re not doing our jobs and merit the criticism voiced in this Morning News column.

If one simply is regurgitating what one is told without making the mental effort to ask oneself whether it is understandable and, if not, to make it so, then one needn’t be on the payroll. This responsibility is and always will be one of the fundamental aspects of media relations, public relations and marketing. Period.

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