Authentic complexity (for example, a subject with lots of moving parts, lots of interactions, and lots of variables) can’t be made arbitrarily simple. Authentic complexity can’t be made arbitrarily simple – but it can be made digestible.

In the life sciences, where we help companies tell their stories to drive profit and sales, we often ask our clients two questions:

First, does the audience REALLY need to understand the entire depth of this complex subject – that is, ALL the complexity? The first answer that most scientists give is “Yes.” Upon closer reflection, however, most of the time the ultimate answer is “No.” On occasion the answer is, “Yes, but not all at once.” Simplicity can help make a subject compelling, but you can make a subject too simple. If you make something too simple, you lose key elements, and this hurts understanding, or limits what people can do with the information you are trying to convey.

The second question we ask is this: if we envision this complex subject as a meal, how can we make it more digestible for the audience? Sometimes this involves splitting the meal up, serving the soup first, and the dessert last. Knowing how to layer stories in this way involves an intimate understanding of the audience, how they process information, what kind of training they have, what their expectations are, etc.

Knowing how much to explain, and how to explain it in ways that are most meaningful to the audience, those are the keys to making complexity compelling.