Have you ever asked someone for directions to a location they know well, and it goes like this:
“Well, once you get on the highway and you go about five minutes, you’ll see an exit to…”
I don’t know about you, but for me, these directions start way too late. I need to know how to get to the highway, starting from where I’m standing right now.
When you’re the expert, it’s hard to know how much someone else knows about the topic of your expertise. Are they like me with directions—start at the very beginning, and don’t assume anything? Or are they conversant with your topic, but just not to the degree that you are?
It’s worth taking some time to figure this out so that you can tailor your message to their level. To go back to the directions example, it’s helpful if someone asks me, “Do you know how to get to the highway from here?” Then I can say “Nope, no idea, tell me everything,” and they know what they’re dealing with. If they’re talking to my dad, he’ll say, “Yes, north of here, then veer left; is the exit I’m looking for about five minutes down the road?”
We won’t know unless we ask. We can save a lot of time and frustration by figuring out who we’re talking to and what they need from us.