Learn to summarize

simplifytIT professionals know a lot of details. We understand complexity. We appreciate nuance. We see lots of variables. We live in a world of changing dynamics.

The challenge in communications, however, is all about simplicity. Deciding which details are important in the context of a particular discussion, presentation, or report is essential. And sadly for those of us who appreciate the wonder and possibilities of the world of detail, most details are unimportant to clear communication. Rather, we’ve got to get to the gist of the matter. And then not cloud the picture. We’ve got to have the ability to summarize.


To get to the heart of the matter and communicate it effectively, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the whole situation look like? Stepping back and examining the scenario from further away will bring some clarity. Here we’re not looking for details, but themes. If this situation were a story, what would it be about? Who would be the main character? What would she be trying to accomplish? What hurdles are in her way? How did she get to this point? What options does she have to move forward?
  • How would you explain this situation to a friend who doesn’t work in IT? Looking at things from the perspective of someone with limited reference points forces higher level summarization, and it makes jargon useless. If you’re explaining things to someone far removed, you’ve got to be selective about the parts you choose to tell and how you present them.
  • What analogies or metaphors might be useful? Analogies and metaphors require a level of abstraction and help get to the essence of the concept and situation. As such, they are great shortcuts to get your point across.
  • What if I only had an elevator ride to explain this? For the same reasons salespeople practice their “elevator pitch,” IT professionals should practice being brief. A time limit of just a minute or two requires further pruning and organizing, forcing you to find the essence of what you’re trying to convey.


The ability to summarize is a skill to be built over time, which requires consistent practice. Fortunately, there’s so much communication going on every day that you’ll have plenty of opportunity. Practice being concise in your email messages. Take some extra time to review and edit the reports you submit. And practice always in conversation.

Like it or not, IT people are perceived as poor communicators. And often times, it’s an accurate assessment. Become an IT person that quickly brings clarity to a situation and you’ll bring lots of value.

Photo credit: agroffman