If content is the raw data of communication, clarity is the packaging of that data in a manner which your audience can understand.
The purpose of communication is to move someone from one understanding to another. Think about like you’re driving across a bridge from one island to another. The original island is their starting understanding, and the second island is their new understanding. The communicators job is to bridge the gap between the audiences current understanding and the new content.
This is where communicators use stories and illustrations which the audience understands. Illustrations and stories are intended as bridges. The communicator takes a concept the audience understands and creatively uses it to give clarity the new content they don’t fully understand.
This is where it’s essential that the communicator has an understanding of their audiences knowledge. If I’m trying to explain courage to a 12 year old girl who’s not allowed to watch PG-13 movies, referencing scenes from Braveheart probably won’t provide a great bridge. When creating an illustration to give clarity, you have to either draw from their current knowledge base or tell a story so simple they can instantly understand it.
- If someone doesn’t play sports, sports illustrations don’t build an effective bridge.
- If someone doesn’t watch a TV show, references to the show aren’t an effective bridge.
In the past I’ve heard some preachers argue that you should primarily use Bible stories to illustrate principles in a sermon. I’m sure this is an extremely effective strategy when preaching to preachers and seminary professors. However, this assumes your audience has a deep understanding of the Bible. It requires that for you to understand the Bible you have to already understand the Bible. If someone has little knowledge of the Bible, it makes little sense to use it to illustrate a Biblical principle. It’s the equivalent of using mud to wash mud off of your face. It won’t work.
Effective communication requires using the audiences current knowledge base and understanding and crafting bridges to the new understand and content.
Master communicators have the ability to craft bridges which are effective for a broad spectrum of people. Master communicators can say things in such a way that both people with little and great understanding can still grow.