Ep. 273: How Rick Demko built a book of 10,000 clients

3 Simple Tips for Explaining Complex Ideas Simply

“Unless you can explain something simply enough, you simply don’t understand it well enough.” ~Albert Einstein

Who should listen: Anyone who needs to explain complicated ideas to those who are unfamiliar with the topic.

Key idea: How well someone understands you is more a function of how they interpret what you say rather than the words you use.

Action items: 1. When explaining your product or service, remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). 2. Identify and let go the 10% of your prospects who are only sapping your time and energy and with whom you know you aren’t being truly authentic.

This week’s episode of Stay Paid features Rick Demko, who is the director of insurance for Centric Risk Strategies, LLC. Amidst the advice he offers to insurance agents is to simplify complex ideas when talking with clients and prospects. When you do, not only will they better understand you and be able to make more informed decisions, but you’ll also build stronger, more trusting relationships with them.

We love this idea because many sales professionals who are experts when it comes to their products or services forget that their prospects and clients are not. So we’ve put together a short but powerful list of three simple tips you can use to improve your chances of being understood when explaining complex ideas to the uninitiated:

  1. Practice active listening.
  2. Use similes and metaphors.
  3. Tell stories.

1. Practice active listening

It may seem peculiar to begin an article about how to explain something with a tip about listening. But effective communication is a process that requires speaking and listening, and the listening phase needs to be much more than the passive of hearing words.

Active listening is a full-body experience that takes quite a bit of effort when done properly. It’s a communication technique that involves all your senses and requires several skills, including being able to discern the meaning behind the message; observing, interpreting, and adjusting to someone’s nonverbal behaviors; and asking good questions.

Active listening requires that you:

  • Adopt a stance that is neutral and nonjudgmental.
  • Be patient and refrain from jumping in to fill periods of silence.
  • Provide verbal and nonverbal feedback to show signs of careful listening such as making eye contact, smiling, leaning in, mirroring the other person’s behavior.
  • Ask questions.
  • Paraphrase to you ensure understand what the other person has said.
  • Ask for clarification when necessary.
  • Periodically summarize the conversation along the way.

Importantly, since these behaviors are skills, they can be improved with practice. When practicing or participating in a conversation where you are engaging in active listening, it pays to be aware of our tendency to engage in ego speak.

One of the consequences of letting our ego control our communication is becoming obsessed with thinking about what we want to say rather than giving our attention and energy to what the other person is trying to communicate. It should be obvious at this point that ego speak makes it impossible to engage in active listening, so be aware of your thoughts. If you find yourself anxiously looking for an opportunity where you can jump in with your ideas, take a step back and refocus.

2. Use similes and metaphors

When trying to explain complicated ideas and unfamiliar information, it’s incredibly helpful when you can compare what’s isn’t known, familiar, or understood to something that is. For this reason, it’s beneficial to be skilled in creating similes and metaphors.

Similes and metaphors are both figures of speech used to make comparisons that aren’t intended to be taken literally. Some writers, grammarians, and other word-centric folks will argue that similes are a type or subset of metaphors—but there’s no need to get into that debate here.

Suffice to say that, while they are similar, similes are explicit and direct comparisons because they use words such as like, as, so, and than, while metaphors are more implicit comparisons. To demonstrate, compare this list of similes with the metaphor that follows:


  • Life is like a box of chocolates.
  • She’s as sly as a fox.
  • Love is patient and so is my mom.
  • He was larger than


“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Metaphors ascribe a characteristic of one thing to another thing. In this metaphor, borrowed from As You Like It, William Shakespeare doesn’t expect us to believe the world is a literal stage. By comparing the world to a stage and the people in the world as players on it, he’s suggesting that there are similarities between the paired elements. His purpose is to have us contemplate the nature of humanity and our place in the world.

In terms of practical examples, let’s imagine you’re in a situation where you need to convince a prospect of the importance of having life insurance.

You could say, “Life insurance is important, and you need to have it.” But the degree to which life insurance is important and why you must have it could be driven home with more persuasive effect if, for example, you used a simile like this one:

Having life insurance is as important to your family’s well-being as lifeboats are to passengers on a cruise ship. You hope you never need to use it, but it better be there when you need it.

If instead of using a simile, you were to use a metaphor, your appeal may go something like this:

There is nothing worse for a family who has lost their primary provider than to be adrift at sea with no bearing, no means of navigation, and no agency. It’s why families need life insurance and ships need anchors.

The image created is vivid, frightening, and compelling—and likely to move your prospect closer to buying a policy.

3. Tell stories

Storytelling is a form of communication as old as human history. From the earliest cave paintings to Nobel Prize-winning tomes, stories arguably are what make us human (#ad).

In this tradition, Rick recounts a story that is meant to make a series of impressions about the critical importance of having life insurance, the tragic consequences that can happen when someone dies without it, and his feelings about selling life insurance.

His recounting the tale of a single father who delayed purchasing a life insurance policy, and then died leaving his son alone, triggers emotions of sadness, fear, and urgency that, by themselves, would compel many people—especially parents—to immediately insure themselves.

When you listen to the episode and hear Rick tell this story, give special attention to the words he uses and the tone in which he tells it. An experienced storyteller can use these features, along with gestures, volume, and more, to create a persuasive appeal few could ignore.

Of course, there are many more tips you can use to make complex ideas easy to understand. You could, for example, draw pictures or offer a demonstration. For more inspiration about how you can make complicated ideas easier to understand, check out this list of 99 Complex Things Explained as Briefly as Possible.


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