Quite a lot of what I do is technical. There was once a time when I didn’t understand what I do, so I had to learn, usually the long and hard way, how to do this technical stuff.
Most of the instructions used jargon, and were written for people who were already technical. It infuriated me that, coupled with American words that had no relation to me as a middle-aged British woman, I sometimes didn’t understand any of it. Like most untechnical people, I explained it in words I knew, which the technical people didn’t understand because it wasn’t on their level. I often came away none the wiser, and feeling very stupid for not using the same language or understanding the instructions to solve my problems.
Eventually I began to understand, and put the information to good use. This was done by trial and error, after much swearing, tearing my hair out, threatening to throw the computer out of the window and shouting at my poor family. Now I do my technical stuff without batting an eyelid, but this is because I have done it several times, and much of it has become second nature.
Now it is me that has to explain what I do to others who aren’t technical in a way that they can understand. This is very difficult if I am to avoid using the associated jargon that goes with these technicalities; just because I now understand it, I should realise how baffling it is for others that don’t – after all, I was once there myself! So I use analogies. I explain using everyday words to get my point across, and I also use them to reinforce a point in another way to get my listeners to understand.
For example, I was explaining what FTP is to Dianne, my work colleague, and how I use it with websites. I also tried to explain how I change the appearance of WordPress blogs to suit corporate styles. For Dianne it would normally be uncomprehensible, so I wanted to simplify things so she could understand. Here is my explanation (any technical people reading this may not agree with my analogy, but remember this is not meant for you!):
I consider FTP as a wardrobe, in which you store clothes. The various elements of a website are like the clothes you put in the wardrobe. Each kind of clothing has a different function, whether to cover certain parts of your body, or to keep you warm in the winter or dry on a rainy day.
Some of these clothes can be altered: change of colour, different buttons, lower neckline, etc, so their appearance can change for the better (this is changing the CSS: cascading style sheets). Some clothes benefit from added accessories, like jewellery or a silk cravat, that can be added to enhance the outfit (this is adding in plugins and other applications). Some clothes require different hangers or mothballs to protect them from harm (security against spam or hackers). Some clothes can be acquired easily from your local shopping centre or have to be ordered in from a catalogue (WordPress installation via Fantasico or via creating MySQL and editing the configuration files in WordPress).
Oops, lots of jargon there! But Dianne was quite satisfied with that explanation, which was my main objective. Now I can mention FTP with the full knowledge that Dianne will refer to my analogy to understand this subject further.