How to use video to explain complex ideas

In a world where most of us are experiencing information overload, it’s easy for complex messages to miss the mark. Here’s how to better explain complex ideas to your audience using the power of video.

Our world, and the challenges we face, are constantly evolving. They’re becoming more complex by the minute, and harder to explain using traditional methods. Simultaneously, however, we’re constantly forced to compete for attention in a crowded landscape, and we’re always attempting to communicate with time-poor audiences who have constantly-shortening attention spans. 

For those brands who have a complex product or service offering, the task to communicate then becomes even more difficult, and failure to do so properly can leave audiences bored or frustrated. A study from Microsoft found that attention spans have shortened to an average of 8 seconds, so you only have moments to engage your audience so they take your messaging on board. If you’re struggling with how to explain complex ideas simply, you’re not alone. 

When we’re communicating complex ideas simply, it’s just as important to not only carefully consider what we say but how we say it. Luckily, there are some key techniques and formats that can be used so that even the most complicated of messages can be simplified. 

Video, for instance, is highly accessible, engaging and memorable. Yet, if not done well, video still has the potential to have viewers yawning after just a few seconds. The key to communicating complex ideas simply is to make your delivery engaging. The more complex the information, the more crucial this is, because you’ll need more time to properly unpack and explain the topic at hand. 

Imagine trying to explain different taxes to an audience who have no understanding of finance. They’ll switch off as soon as they hear words like ‘tax’ if your content isn’t presented in an interesting way. Your audience will find it harder to engage with the information, and therefore, crucially, it will be more of a challenge for them to understand it. So, without further ado, here’s how to explain complex ideas using tried-and-tested visual techniques that will have your audience hooked from the get-go.

1. Make it visual

Our brain processes visuals over 60,000 times faster than text. Use this to your advantage! Painting a picture of your concept is one of the most brilliant ways of communicating complex ideas simply, and is the key to giving your audience that ‘aha!’ moment. It can demonstrate how a certain product or concept works and is particularly helpful for businesses that aren’t typically in the ‘sexiest’ of industries.

Ever watched/created an explainer video? Explainer videos including animation and motion graphics can go a long way in helping the viewer digest information. It’s also extremely helpful when you’re unable to film certain concepts or want to explain something that requires more abstract footage.

When the visuals perfectly explain and reinforce a message, the content can be much more engaging, no matter how complicated it is. It’s also important to consider the energy that goes into your script and voiceover. Audio and sound, (especially music) can evoke a powerful emotional response from your audience. The way you choose to present your information will set the tone of your video and, ultimately, will dictate the way your audience responds.

2. Use the art of storytelling

While technical diagrams, data, and statistics can be useful in explaining certain topics and can help with credibility, relying too heavily on numbers and graphs can quickly bore your audience. Instead, think about how your key messages can be crafted into a narrative. Storytelling is a powerful, immersive technique that connects with audiences by giving context to a topic in an engaging way. It can add a more exciting, dynamic layer to a topic and immediately engage your audience.

By establishing bonds through references and analogies in the stories we share, audiences can relate to your brand, ensuring you remain top of mind when they go to make a purchase/looking for a service you provide. This shared connection breeds understanding. Effective storytelling is a skill, but going back to the basics of ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ will help in providing basic context to a situation or process. Be sure to keep your storytelling light and concise, and tell the audience stories that are relatable and engaging. 

 An example of using interactive storytelling to simulate a conversation An example of using interactive storytelling to simulate a conversation

3. Create a series of bite-size videos

When considering how to explain complex ideas, it’s important that you don’t inundate your audience with information overload. Sometimes the concept you’re trying to explain only requires concise background information to understand it fully. Provide your audience with sufficient information so they can get an overview of the concept first without blinding them with extraneous details. Ask yourself what your audience really needs to know.

A simple way to express information is by using bite-sized videos; short video snippets that often exist in a series. According to the Journal of Educational Computing Research, short content results in over 20% more retention than longer content. To take advantage of this, you could create a series of videos with different examples detailing a variety of ways to use a certain product. 

Think of your topic as a series of stepping stones, allowing you to jump forwards, sideways, or even backwards. Weaving this information into your videos will allow your audience to skip or go back to areas to refresh their knowledge of things. An easy way to enable this is through the use of branching videos, which give the audience the choice to learn more about a certain topic if they’re interested. 

Branching videos are similar to a choose-your-own-adventure-style novel. As the video progresses, viewers are presented with choices. Clicking certain selections can skip them to a predetermined part of the video to continue the experience, on their own terms. Unlike books, however, branching videos can link to other web pages or a different video altogether if you like.

 An example of using branching videos to explain different career paths
An example of using branching videos to explain different career paths

4. Make it engaging with interactive features

If you really want to know how to explain complex ideas and create content that will have your audience on the edge of their seat, interactive video is the perfect tool for you. Interactive video is your secret weapon for achieving higher levels of engagement. It can help your viewers focus, think, and interact with your content, and turn passive viewers into active users of your content. It can also reinforce your audience’s learning on a particular subject with pop-up summaries, and allows you to test their knowledge with quizzes. You can even ask for feedback using polls and questionnaires.

Making interactive videos doesn’t require specialized content creation skills. They can be created using any existing video footage. The benefit of interactive video is also the advanced data and learnings available to analyze what subjects most people are interested in, allowing you to perfect your video content over time.

 An example of using interactive features to engage your audience through providing extra information
An example of using interactive features to engage your audience through providing extra information

5. Test it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of unconsciously assuming that your audience knows just as much about the subject matter as you do. It can be challenging to put yourself in the audience’s shoes, especially if you’re a subject matter expert. The best way to get around this is to find someone who has no industry knowledge of the subject matter, such as a friend or family member. Their feedback can be valuable in creating fresh and relevant content.

Communicating complex ideas simply is a breeze with video, and the faster technology moves, the easier this is becoming. Video can be game-changing for brands. It has the power to transcend language barriers, elicit engagement, and help make confusing subjects far easier to understand. Luckily, video production is getting easier and more affordable every day, but regardless, you’ll quickly find the results you’ll receive using video are well worth the investment.