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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

The Bridge Between Academic Professionals and The Business World

with Dawn Henwood, Founder Clarity Studio

In the business world, there is often an academic professional behind a product or service. With all the science involved, how do these worlds communicate? Dawn Henwood, Founder of Clarity Studio, shares how she builds the bridge between worlds, assists in audience connection, and clarification of important knowledge.

Notes from the Show

Dawn Henwood, is the founder of Clarity Studio, where she is the “Bridge Maker” between the world of academia and the world of business. Dawn works with a range of professionals on their innovation journey. She works with these technical professionals to create effective communication and build trust with their desired audience.

The challenge for technical professionals coming from academia is that the code is vastly different. Dawn explains that other academics will differ in what they consider important qualifications versus their business world counterparts. For example, other academic professionals care mostly about the publications and specialty degrees of a specific individual. While the business world is concerned with LinkedIn connections and building a relationship of trust.

In order to create effective communication and bridge between worlds, Dawn helps her clients connect with their audience. Breaking past the “Researcher’s Brain” and understanding what your audience needs to hear is key because a lot of important information can get lost in the science and technicalities. The key for Dawn’s clients and for prospective audiences is to respect the knowledge. Trust, connection, AND knowledge can be communicated with attention to clarification and simplification not just ‘dumbing it down’.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dawn Henwood and Clarity Studio, you can reach her via email, find her on LinkedIn, or visit the Clarity Studio website

What's Inside:

  • Building a bridge between the world of academia and business.

  • Why respecting knowledge is important in effective communication.

  • How to get past “Researcher’s Brain” and connect with your audience.

  • The challenge for technical professionals when communicating with the business world.

  • What is the need for clarifying information from subject matter experts in other fields

  • Mistakes consultants make when communicating with academic professionals.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38

Hi, everybody, welcome. I'm Susan Tatum. And today I'm talking with Dawn Henwood, who is the founder of Clarity Studio and Dawn's business is helping highly technical experts. And like people with academic backgrounds, etc, communicate effectively with those of us that do not have that background, and can't really under be expected to, nor do we need to understand the details. So, Dawn, I'm really excited about this call, because I think it's something that almost many, many of us, in the consulting business have a challenge with, whether we are the ones with the, with all of the knowledge and struggling to communicate, or we're working with folks that are in that position, and how best can we work with them. So welcome.

Dawn Henwood 1:30

Thank you so much for having me.

Susan Tatum 1:32

So you want to take a minute and just do a better job than I did? Telling me about what you do.

Dawn Henwood 1:39

Thank you. Well, I'm starting my career as an English professor teaching Victorian literature. And I very quickly learned that I was too pragmatic for that. But what I really wanted to help people with was writing and communication. So I segwayed into teaching technical communication. And since then, over a career now more than 20 years, I have gone back and forth between the worlds of the academy and the the worlds various worlds of business. So I'm a bit of a bridge maker, in a way helping people from those different worlds communicate.

Susan Tatum 2:23

So I think that's a good word, the bridge maker, because I think, based on my own experience, there's probably a lot of misunderstanding that goes on between the two groups, I'll say the the the experts, I mean, the the really technical experts, and the folks like me, who often are in the position to help them accomplish what they need to accomplish in the I'll say real world. Yeah. So what, what types of folks are you are you working with now?

Dawn Henwood 3:03

I work with a range of folks who I would say are somewhere along the innovation journey. So they could be doing pure research that has potential to be commercialized, and those folks would be actually in the academy. Or they could be starting to spin a startup out of their research. Or they could have already started a startup. And so they are a founder, who has either a background in engineering or science, something like that.

Susan Tatum 3:38

So when you say Academy, and I don't know if that's your you're a Canadian, and I'm American, I don't. So is it there in the US university setting there in academia somehow? In some way

Dawn Henwood 3:51

That's right. Yeah, I would use that to describe what you would think of as four year colleges and up yeah.

Susan Tatum 4:00

All right, that makes sense. So um, why is it what are the situations in which it becomes so important that these folks be able to communicate with the rest of us?

Dawn Henwood 4:11

Right? Well, I think anytime, basically, you want to get something done. So you want to get buy in into an idea, to shape policy, you want to get funding for a project, or you want to actually make a business connection form a business relationship with an investor or a partner or a customer.

Susan Tatum 4:40

Okay, so other than the fact that I'm guessing they're not taught how to do that in school? Why is it such a challenge?

Dawn Henwood 4:52

I think because once you put in the years, you put in the lab time you put in the library time and you finally get those three little letters after your name PhD, then I think there's a tendency to identify with that credential. And I think it's the same if if you become a professional engineer, or you become a certified project manager, right, you've got this special designation and it's easy to think, well, that's who I am. And when I go out into the world, that's what people want to know about me. Right? So there's I think there's, you know, we talk about, you know, when you're trying to sell something that you know people buy from those they know, like and trust. And I think when you have spent so many years building up your knowledge, it's easy to assume that only that first part will apply. Well, they just know me, they know my books, they know my credentials. And so I'll just stop there.

Susan Tatum 5:55

So it's a lot of I went to Harvard, so they should listen, I have a degree from whatever, you should just pay attention to what I'm saying.

Dawn Henwood 6:05

Yes, and I think that's because that's the code that works in the academic environment. So the academic environment, you are your publications. And if I met you, and I knew you were a researcher, and such and such a feel, I'm not going to look at your LinkedIn profile, I'm going to look at your publications, I don't really care what your students said about you, or what your colleagues said about you. Right, I just want to say you are what you've written, you are your research. Whereas when you move outside the academy, it's much it's not just about the knowledge, it's about the relationships.

Susan Tatum 6:39

It's it's very much about the relationships, isn't it? I think that it seems to me that often, these folks have so much knowledge. And that is, of course, what they're interested in. That's it's very near and dear to them. And it can be difficult to understand that not everybody feels that way. And that that doesn't even have to be a highly technical person. I mean, people fall in love with their products all the time, right. And that's all they want to talk about. And they don't realize that the rest of us are buying solutions, not the products, and we don't really care about all this stuff. Is that would you fair enough to say that that's occurring with the technical folks as well, they want to talk about their areas of expertise.

Dawn Henwood 7:31

Yes, absolutely. I had a conversation recently with a professor who is spinning out startup from his research in chemistry. And he said to me, you know, I know I'm spending too much time talking about the science when I'm in front of investors or funders, but how do I not talk about the science? Right? Because that's what he's so passionate about. That's what he knows. So it's, it's really a matter of developing the skills that enable you to step outside yourself and step into your audience's thought world so that you're looking at the world from from their perspective.

Susan Tatum 8:16

And how do you do that?

Dawn Henwood 8:18

Yeah, well, fortunately, the people I work with tend to be very analytical, because that's been their training. And so what we do is, we find kind of systematic ways we use frameworks and different tools that enable them to research their audience. And really, it's a matter of looking at kind of different dimensions of the audience's experience, you know, everything from their age and their gender, those kind of demographic characteristics to their values, the office politics, where they're working, what their professional goals are. So I find that for most people, say, if they're very trained in an analytical mode of thinking that they can just apply that to their audience.

Susan Tatum 9:16

Okay, so it's just a matter of putting the right framework around it, I think was what you were saying about how how to how to think about this.

Dawn Henwood 9:23

Yes, that's right. And a lot of people will stress the value of empathizing with your audience. Empathy isn't a word, I use a whole lot for two reasons. First of all, I think, yes, you can say empathize with your audience. But if you don't first understand your audience, and where they're coming from, you can't actually step into their shoes emotionally. But the second piece of that is that there's much more to the art of what's called perspective taking than just empathy because what you're really trying to do is analyze the audience so that you can predict actually how they will interact with whatever piece of writing or whatever communication product you're, you're sharing with them.

Susan Tatum 10:11

So those of us out there that the and I say they because I'm by no means one of these technical experts. Those of us who are trying to communicate with our kind of a specimen for them that they're just gonna ask you're gonna they're gonna say, Well, I you think you need to see this? You need to see it this way.

Dawn Henwood 10:32

Specimen in what sense?

Susan Tatum 10:33

Well, I guess sort of it just seemed like, I can't remember now what it was you said done that made me think that it was like something about the expectations

Dawn Henwood 10:46

it's kind of putting the audience under the microscope.

Susan Tatum 10:48


Dawn Henwood 10:48

It's about kind of seeing the window through which your audience sees the world. And you can't do that just by asking one or two questions or relying on your gut instinct, it really to me, you need a lot of data, you need to gather a lot of data about your audience in order to really figure out where they're coming from what makes them tick. And what you want to be able to do is to Yeah, you see the world through their eyes. So for instance, let's say you're doing something that involves high level math, and for some reason, you'd need to explain some mathematical principle to somebody who is not a mathematician. Well, if you happen to know that say that your audience is not a mathematician, but they're an accomplished musician, then they're, you know, there might be some analogy, you could draw their use of medical. So it's these little insights that enable you to connect with your audience in ways that quickly bring them up to speed because you're trying to connect, you're not trying to kind of teach them everything, you know, you're trying to simply latch on to something that they already know. And that's where the bridge building happens, bring them over into into the world of new information that you have to share.

Susan Tatum 12:18

And so in your work with these folks, is that that's something you've helped them do.

Dawn Henwood 12:23

Yes, yeah, absolutely. We spend a lot of time on figuring out how to enter the audience's thought world. And then how you change the framing? How do you change your communication style, as well to reach the folks who don't share your expertise?

Susan Tatum 12:41

One thing that I don't I don't recall if we said this at the beginning, but I think it's very important to mention is that you yourself have a PhD?

Dawn Henwood 12:53

I do. So yes,

Susan Tatum 12:55

been through the rigors of earning a degree like that. And

Dawn Henwood 13:02

yes, and I still have what I would call kind of researchers brains. So I'm often able to understand why a communication behavior that might look like it makes no sense actually makes perfect sense to somebody who's coming from an academic background. So we can, we can figure out, in some cases, what has to be unlearned, in order for effective communication to take place outside the academy.

Susan Tatum 13:31

So a point that I want to make for the listeners, that's off topic a little bit, but I'm often talking about how important it is to have a good connection between the consultant and the clients. And you in your, in your background, have a combination that would get some instant credibility based on the accomplishments that you have that are in line with the accomplishments that your that your target audience and your clients have. So there is a certain level of respect that's there. And then, in addition to that, the knowledge of how to I'm not going to use the word manipulate because that's an ugly word, but how to be able to help them work through situations to get to the result that they're looking for.

Dawn Henwood 14:26

They are in a persuasion, yes, not manipulation. Probably a better word,

Susan Tatum 14:35

persuasion, for good and not evil, for sure.

Dawn Henwood 14:39

That's right. Early on in my career. A marketing consultant said to me something I've never forgotten, because it was like a slap in the face at the time. She said, Dawn, your PhD is just a feature. It's not a benefit. So yes, there's a certain kind of almost street cred that goes with with having a PhD. But then beyond that, it's very much about earning trust. And I do that the way I help my clients do that, you know, it's by writing in a way it's very personal. It's about speaking to what the audience is interested in, not what I'm interested in. It's about using a very conversational style, even when I'm dealing with technical information. So all those strategies I have to use to to earn the trust of my clients.

Susan Tatum 15:32

Trust is a really important word too. And when you and I talked before, you mentioned something to the effect that one of the ways that you build trust is by respecting their knowledge.

Dawn Henwood 15:48

Yes, absolutely

Susan Tatum 15:51

and I think that is a, everyone should write that down.

Dawn Henwood 15:56

Well, I know this from my own experience as an academic, that if you are dealing with somebody who has really deep technical knowledge, particularly if they are in the academy, one of their greatest fears and interacting with you is that you will distort that knowledge that you will dumbing it down, for instance. And so I make that really clear upfront that I'm about simplifying, clarifying, distilling meeting meaning, but I will never say just talk to me like you're talking to a six year old, because that's really that gets right at their core fear that I that I just want a surface level understanding.

Susan Tatum 16:42

So how to alienate a technical person. Just say this to them. Yeah, that makes sense. So I was going to ask you what, what? So we've got there's, I think there's two things here. One is that many of the listeners, and many of my clients are technical experts to themselves. So they need to be able to communicate. I mean, it could be within their own companies, they've got people that don't have that technical knowledge, or nor do they need to have that technical knowledge. And so I think it's, it's really important to that we understand how, how to communicate with different people.

Dawn Henwood 17:25

Yes, I've done a lot of work with folks like business consultants, and project managers. So in a larger organization, maybe the technical person who has to communicate with the business person, or they may be in a consulting role that and they have to consult within the company or externally.

Susan Tatum 17:52

So then there's also we can have clients who have the same that who have technical knowledge that we don't need to have. And we've been approached this a little bit and talking about, you know, what makes you so good at this. And part of that is that you share, I think, you share a background and a certain way of thinking with your with your target audience. So for those of us that are that are helping, I don't know, if it's on the marketing side, or the leadership development side, that are working with clients that are highly, highly technical, what should we or can we do to make sure that we don't step in it? By saying things like, let's pretend you're talking to set your mother understand this or something like that? And, and that, that we are communicating well with them?

Dawn Henwood 18:54

Hmm. Well, I guess first of all, I think I'm good at what I do, because I was such a terrible teacher. When I started out as a professor, I was the world's worst professor. And I very quickly had to learn everything I could about teaching, and that informs all of the communication, I do so. So part of the journey,

Susan Tatum 19:16

how did you learn quickly as much as you could about teaching?

Dawn Henwood 19:20

I did a lot of reading. I mean, this was back before a lot of stuff was even on the internet. So I just did a whole lot of reading and research and actually started to find out not just tips and tricks, but how people actually learn. And this is where I came to understand the need for emotional connection. If you don't engage emotionally with your audience, you're not going to get anywhere.

Susan Tatum 19:46

I think this is a topic that we could have a whole nother episode on because someone, I don't know if I mentioned it to you or not. But someone pointed out to me, in the not too distant past that many consultants are terrible teachers. And the ability to teach and the other standing of it really should be a skill or a talent or whatever it is that consultants do have, we need to understand that.

Dawn Henwood 20:15

And it is a very it is a separate skill that takes work to develop. So I think just recognizing that is the first step that simply having knowledge doesn't equip you to share it with others. And I saw that a few years ago when I was working with a global consulting firm and And we had developed a program that was to be peer facilitated by partners. And these partners are fantastic presenters and even put them in front of a client and they will sell a $3 million deal, right. But then when they suddenly were in a teaching role, and particularly in facilitation role was very, very challenging for them, because very different skill set.

Susan Tatum 20:59

Well, so what were they were they they're just trying to lecture and expecting that whoever they're lecturing to is just going to pick it up?

Dawn Henwood 21:08

That's right. Yeah. Well, that was sorry, go ahead.

Susan Tatum 21:12

I was gonna say when I think about, well, so I go. My history of well, I continue to educate myself all the time. But when I was in formal school, in university and college, it was all big lecture halls, practically, that you just you just sat there and took notes.

Dawn Henwood 21:33

That's right.

Susan Tatum 21:33

is that still done

Dawn Henwood 21:35

Unfortunately, yes, I think COVID has actually moved the sluggishness of the academic world ahead a little bit, because schools were forced to figure out how to do things a little bit differently. But I think when you're you get to get to your question about how do you communicate effectively with somebody who's an academic, whereas very advanced technical knowledge, it is a lot of recognizing the environment they come from, we are all creatures of our environment. And part of communicating to me when somebody has deep technical expertise is, is recognizing that they are wired for precision, and they're wired for skepticism and deep thought. So because they're wired for precision, they may get wired in the details, and you may have to pull them back. Because they're wired for skepticism, you need to be prepared to think about what they might question and kind of go into any meeting with that. Or if you're writing something, it means making sure you have your footnotes and making sure you're very clear about your terms. And then recognizing that they are deep thinkers. And so sometimes they may need longer to process something than you might think they might not want to make a snap decision, they may want to have something that they look over before the meeting and after the meeting. So it's really recognizing, I think people as creatures of their environment.

Susan Tatum 23:10

Do you think that so we hear all of this about the people make buying decisions based on emotions, and then they they justify it with logic. And I have seen that with, because when I was coming along and business to business, and it was all very much features and benefits in the logic of it. But I see that I do see that people are people even regardless of how they think. And there is some emotion involved in there somewhere. Does that? Would you agree with that?

Dawn Henwood 23:48

Oh, absolutely. And I think that is a mistake that a lot of people again, who have very technical knowledge make is they assume, let's say they are a consulting engineer, and they are selling something into, you know, a construction company or something. So they're talking to a project manager, who, again, has very technical background, they say, Well, no, no, this is just all logic. And it's not people are human. Now, the difference between selling something to somebody who does have a very logical bent, and somebody who's operating, you know, kind of more on pure emotion is that you have to make sure that there is a layer of your communication that will enable them to get down into the details and dig, because they do need to be able to rationalize the decision to themselves. And so they, they're moved by emotion, but they absolutely want to be able to drill down into the details to justify that decision.

Susan Tatum 24:50

Is is part of the details. Proof. And from a marketing perspective, it would be like case studies or something like that, or maybe it's what do you call it peer reviewed that things have been approved or whatever that are they are they looking for something like that, that this is this has been tested? Are they looking for they want to really understand the nuts and bolts of what's going on? Is that a combination?

Dawn Henwood 25:23

It really depends on the person. So an exercise I'll often do with groups is we'll talk about the three pillars of persuasion that Aristotle came up with, you know, back in 350 BCE. Logic, emotion and the character of the speaker. And then I'll ask people to think about what, what mode of persuasion tends to influence them the most. So if I'm working with a group of engineers, for instance, then 80% of them will say logic, I am moved by logic and say, Okay, well, now I want you to think about your audience, and what will move them the most. And then they come back and say, Gee, when I think about my last client, it's probably my character. You know, I need to build trust or if there's a strong emotional element

Susan Tatum 26:19

that's in it. That's that's a good idea for something to do to get them thinking that way. Well, I could talk to you about this forever. A lot more questions. But we're, we're up on our time here now. And I thank you so much for being here. And for the folks that would want to follow up with you what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Dawn Henwood 26:43

Best way to connect with me is LinkedIn or can reach me via email at dawn D-A-W-N like the morning

Susan Tatum 26:55

That's ca Okay. And we'll put that in the show notes for them as well. And thank you again for being here.



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