RCAC Lee LeFever Keynote

Lee LeFever was the keynote speaker at the RCAC Symposium in December. I took these notes while he was speaking, with the intent of sharing them here. I had meant to polish them while the thoughts were still fresh (oops). So better late than never, here are my notes from Lee talking about his journey as an “explainer”.

What is missing in explanation is context. Context develops interest.
We have interest in the trees, but we don’t see or do a good job explaining the forest, and the forest is where the understanding is. Seeing the forest allows the trees to make more sense.

Explanation problems: Communication was holding back adoption.
The “geeks” we’re doing a bad job explaining the functionality of the tools.

The process of making the common craft video:

Users Suggest and vote on the needs of the system. What do you need explained.
Then the research starts. Scripting is completed in Google Docs.
Then the storyboard, which dictates the artwork required (drawn using a Wacom tablet), is pulled together in PowerPoint. Once the drawings are created, they are printed and coloured.

What is explanation?

Video is just a medium. Explanation is a communication skill.
(Lee is advocating becoming a better “explainer”)

An explanation is a package of ideas. They can change behavior. The videos are successful because they help people understand why they should care more. Not just what something does. Get people interested.

The Common Craft Recipe

  1. Start with what is wrong.
  2. Suggest an solution.
  3. Suggest why that solution could make things better.

Often the quality of the idea is not the problem. It’s the explanation.

Reading list.

Made to Stick Chip and Dan Heath.

The more you know about something, the harder it is for you to understand what others DON’T know.


  • Fix the time constrain
  • Go with the big ideas
  • Major points
  • Don’t get stuck in the weeds and minutiae
  • Never talk off the top, which confuses
  • You need a plan
  • Define the problem
  • Set goals
  • Build the context
  • Simple accurate statements

ie: We all agree these things are happening. Describe the environment and the high level problems. What is happening now, what are the problems with that. The goal is to have the audience see themselves in the problem, and recognize the playing field.

Connect the ideas
When it’s complex, use an analogy. Use universal ideas to create a foundation. Find the common ground. Explain it to the cave-dweller. The Luddite. This helps give others the ability to not only understand, but to explain to others. Let’s them do the sharing as well. Builds capacity of the capacity builders.

Connect with a story about overcoming the problem.
Tell a story. People love stories. Make the issue personalized. Creates empathy.
Sees positive change and understands the impact of the idea on a broad scale.

During the breakout session, Lee spoke about the Intellectual Property of the “Common Craft Style”, and acknowledged permission to utilize and emulate his signature style in videos of your own.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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