How to impress your people by giving up on sounding smart and dumbing it down instead

When you are considered the expert, it is so easy to forget all the things you didn’t know at one point. But, your followers? They still don’t know all the things – that’s why they come to you. You must speak in a way they understand and that will require you to simplify your language. When you do this, you will earn their trust and they will know you truly understand their problem.

Resources mentioned in this post:

look smart stack of books

Dumbing it down is a real thing


If you have a minute to spare, I want you to open a web browser and go to Amazon. Then I want you to do a quick search for the term ‘For dummies.’  You will see hundreds, if not thousands, of books from the ‘For dummies’ series.


They’ve got anxiety for dummies, anatomy for dummies, office 365 for dummies, astronomy for dummies, auto repair for dummies, coding for dummies, networking for dummies, investing for dummies, etc. You could find a ‘For Dummies’ book on any topic you can imagine.


So what does this mean for your business? That’s what we’re going to be diving into today.


MYTH: You need to sound smart if you want people to trust you.


This is a myth that I’ve seen all of my clients face. They want to make sure that they sound very smart and professional and amazing and perfect so that their visitors trust that they can actually help them.


The problem is that this often backfires. Why do you think the ‘For Dummies’ books are so popular? It’s because we all feel like dummies a lot of the time. There are thousands of subjects out there that I feel like a dummy on.


Auto repair? Uh, I’m a dummy, I don’t know anything about it. If I were to try to learn about that subject, a book that says it’s written specifically for dummies is going to catch my attention because I know that it was written for me specifically.


This is how you want to make your website visitors feel; you want them to feel understood.


They already feel a little embarrassed, uncomfortable, awkward or silly because they don’t know what you know. They’re a little scared, a little timid about coming to you to find the answers and they don’t want to be made to feel more stupid.


When you use highly technical language, or industry jargon, it begins to feel overwhelming to them. It calls out the fact that, “Hey, I know a whole lot more than you do. You’re a dummy.” It makes them feel even more uncomfortable, more embarrassed and then you don’t foster a relationship of trust with them.


Obviously, they already believe that you know more than they do about the topic. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have signed up for your email list. They wouldn’t be following you on Instagram. They wouldn’t have come to your website. They hope that you know a whole lot more than they do, but they also hope that you already know that they are a “dummy” and that you are going to have compassion and patience and not speak and teach in a way that feels like it’s over their heads.


The Curse of Knowledge 


Again, think about those ‘For Dummies’ books, someone who purchases a ‘for dummies’ book may not want people to see them reading it, but they still desperately want the book. This is this balance between the fact that you know and understand that your person is a “dummy,” but you don’t call it out. You don’t make them feel like a dummy.


Too often we put sounding like the expert and sounding super smart on our websites, above actually understanding and showing compassion for those who visit our websites. This is a problem.


This is something that I like to call the curse of knowledge:


You assume someone has the background knowledge needed to understand what it is you’re teaching.


It’s not even something you realize you’re doing. It seems so factual to you and you think, “Oh, they should understand this. Everybody knows this. Oh, that’s way too simple way too basic. They would think I’m ridiculous if I taught that.” You’re assuming that they already have that knowledge and when you do this, you make people feel awkward and misunderstood.


So what exactly do I mean by the curse of knowledge? I mean that you understand more than you think you understand. You might remember how it felt to be in your ideal client’s shoes, but you very seldomly remember  the exact problems you faced and the questions you had.


For example:


I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom, so overwhelmed because I couldn’t figure out a piece of tech that had broken on my website. I was hacked. It was covered in pornography.


If this happened to me now, I could go fix it in just a few minutes. But then it was a huge weekend for me. It was a black Friday weekend. I made a large amount of my income that weekend and I could not figure out how to fix it. And I was sobbing. I was so overwhelmed.


But it wasn’t just that one piece. It was all of it together. It was my course and the tech and my course working. And I remember all of that, but I don’t remember how I would have phrased the exact question I asked my developer. And so the way that I would phrase that question now, the way that I would talk about those feelings now, is very likely going to be above your head. It’s going to feel too complicated and too overwhelming. 


The curse of knowledge is a real phrase. It’s not something that I came up with. It was actually first coined in 1989 in the Journal of Political Economy. And it was done based on a lot of studies around this concept and it was actually named a bias


So, what is a bias? One that might be really easy for you to understand for all of us to understand is optimism and pessimism. Some of us are naturally more optimistic. We have a bias toward optimism. Others are naturally more pessimistic. They have a bias toward pessimism. So an optimist and a pessimist, very often, they both think that they are believing something that is fact. And when they meet each other, they think the other person is crazy. It couldn’t possibly be true.


This is a bias, it’s hidden. It’s really hard for us to see in ourselves. And that’s why the curse of knowledge has been labeled a bias because it is very difficult to defeat. It is really, really, really hard for you to see it in yourself.


2 examples of the curse of knowledge


At the Get Stuff Done Workshop this past week, Chantelle was one of our attendees. You can find her at @lacoutureskincare on Instagram or She brought a small gift to everybody who came to the workshop and it included a face wash.


I already own this face wash. It’s actually called the lemon scrub and for the past six months, I have been using this lemon scrub without knowing it was a face wash. I read the words ‘lemon scrub’ and I thought it’s just an exfoliator. It’s just going to exfoliate my face and I still need to clean my face after.


As she was up there talking to people, she was telling them that, “okay, I’ve got these two face washes.”  Facial cleansers is probably what she called them. “One is the lemon scrub and one is the vitamin C lactic cleanser.” She said these both do the same thing. They’re both going to kind of exfoliate your face and then you can move on to the next step in your routine. She didn’t say that you had to wash your face again. I raised my hand and asked, “so we don’t need to do this and then use a facial cleanser?” And she goes, “no, these are both cleansers.”


I was like “what?!” She told me later in the week that she was shocked by that question, but I was legitimately confused about it. I had been wasting product for months by doing double work and money by buying a second cleanser.


This is the curse of knowledge. This is a bias. Chantelle assumed that I had the background knowledge to know that this facial scrub already had cleanser in it. That is the curse of knowledge. And you suffer from it.


I promise you, there are things that you feel are way too simple to teach your people and they’re not. I learn this all the time. I’m aware of this idea of a curse of knowledge. I’m aware that I have this bias and I still struggle with it. I can’t tell you how many times this came up during the Get Stuff Done workshop.


If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, it is a week-long workshop, six days, where I bring eight women, eight businesses, in and we will work on their websites for 12 hours a day. My assistants and I, we walk around and we answer their questions and they’re able to get so much done because it is silent, because we are pushing them to get it done because they have someone to answer their questions right then and there. It is such a great workshop, but I learned so much from that last week.


I learned that I have the curse of knowledge. There were so many questions. People raised their hand and asked them and I thought, “Really you don’t know that?” Not like in a you’re that stupid kind of way, but just in a, an aha light bulb moment. Well, the fact that you asked that question gives me 10 ideas for podcast episodes I could create. This is really hard to defeat.


We can do simple things, like a photographer could stop using the word aperture. There are some things that we can say differently. But the reality is it’s a bias. It’s just like someone who tends to be more pessimistic or more optimistic. You tend to believe your people have more background knowledge than they really do.


I believe that the key to marketing effectively is overcoming the curse of knowledge, overcoming this bias. This is how clear over clever actually happens. This is how you really get clear on your website and speak to your people. This is how trust is built, because they feel like you understand that.


2 ways to get over the curse of knowledge


#1 – I want you to write down five things you will eliminate from your vocabulary


For me, this could be something like ‘lead magnet.’ People who are brand new to marketing have no idea what a lead magnet is. Those of us who have been in it for quite a while know it’s a term we use so that we don’t have to describe what it is every time. That’s how language is created.


Every single time I say lead magnet, I don’t want to say “you know when you sign up for someone’s email list, they typically give you a free gift? It’s what they do in exchange for your email address. So when you give me your email address, I pay you by giving you something that you need. That’s a lead magnet.”


In the marketing world we just call it a lead magnet so that we don’t have to say that whole  paragraph every single time. But the fact is I am trying to help those who are brand new to marketing. And if I keep saying lead magnet, they’re going to say, I can never do this. I can’t figure this out. This is too overwhelming. It’s too hard. So I really have to watch my language.


I want you to come up with five words that you are not going to say any more that you will explain every time you say that because you know your people need them explained and you honor that in them.


You know that they are not an expert in what you teach about. They’re experts in other things, it doesn’t make them stupid as a human overall. They are not a dummy in every way. But in this one area, you recognize that they are, but they don’t want to be made to feel like they are. They want someone to patiently, kindly, lovingly take them by the hand and teach them and teach them so that they can improve.


#2 – Listen to episode 80 of The Goodness Squad podcast


In that episode, I teach you how to read your followers minds with eight tips. You will create what I call an information inventory. The information inventory is the cure to the curse of knowledge. So stop focusing on trying to impress your people with all of your vast knowledge and start focusing on understanding them and then making them feel understood.


One area on your website where this becomes especially important is your homepage. If you would like additional help creating a homepage that will make you money and serve your people I invite you to go to sign up for the MAP Method Makeover where you will get to watch me make over an existing client’s website using my MAP Method.


You can do that by scrolling just a bit more down this post. It will take about an hour of your time, but you will learn so much and hopefully finish feeling like this is something you can DIY.

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Listen Here

This post originally aired as an episode of The Goodness Squad podcast. New episodes are no longer being recorded, but you can listen to past episodes on your favorite podcast app.

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