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This blog is where we announce new videos & talk about the power of explanation & the change it can create. 

Explainer Tip: Build and Sustain Confidence

Recently I saw an animated video by the Private Equity Growth Capital Council that seeks to answer the question: What is Private Equity?  

Here’s the video:

Below I'm using a single scene from this video to highlight an important element of explanation: building and sustaining confidence. 
 
This video is likely a response to the news surrounding US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who founded a private equity firm called Bain Capital.  It’s an issue that can be controversial and my point here is not to comment on the politics, bias or balance of the video.  I’d, instead, like look at it in terms of explanation.
 
A quick point about intent.  This video is not entitled “Private Equity Explained” or “Private Equity Made Easy”. Further, the target audience for the video is not stated, so I acknowledge that the intent may not be explanation or for a general audience. 
 
First, I think it’s nicely presented.  The illustrations work well with the voice-over and it has a friendly, approachable feel.  And I think it does a reasonable job of explaining the basic ideas behind private equity from the perspective of the industry.
 
However, when I watch the video I see language that represents a risk.  I’m a big believer in the idea that explanations should build and sustain confidence for the audience.  Anything that takes away confidence erodes the power of the explanation. 
 
The first big and potentially powerful point in the video is this:
 
Private Equity firms partner with investors like public and private pension funds, university endowments and charitable foundations to buy companies...
 
If you work in finance, this may make perfect sense to you and seem simple. But I doubt that the average person, whom I believe is the target for this video, will get it.  Understanding what each of these investors are and do can be intimidating. Like so many explanations, it depends on assumptions.  Let’s take a look:
 
The question is “What is Private Equity” and the first point they make is about “private equity firms partner with...”.  Assumption(1): People know that private equity is something that a “firm” does. Assumption (2) People know what it means to “partner” with an investor.
 
The firms “partner with investors like public and private pension funds, university endowments and charitable foundations.”  Assumption (1): People know what those things are.  Assumption (2):  People know that pension funds, endowments and foundations can be investors.
 
These assumptions don’t necessarily compromise the video, but they offer the audience a good reason to lose confidence.  
 
Further, the point on investment partners is a distraction that was likely included to promote a message of positivity (private equity helps things that do good). Aren’t the investment partners a detail that can be covered later?
 
If I had to rethink the beginning of the video, I’d zoom-out, talk about the big picture and discuss the various needs at work, without all the details: 
 
On one side, there are investors that have money and need a way to make more.  On the other, there are companies that need money and have the potential to grow. In the middle are private equity firms, which use the money from investors to buy companies, turn them around and sell them to at a profit.
 
It’s a very simplified view but one that focuses on the big, high level concept.  Of course it’s not bulletproof, but it builds a foundation that may help the audience feel more confident in understanding the big ideas *first* and the smaller ones later - and that’s what matters.
 
If you're interested in learning more about explanation, my forthcoming book "The Art of Explanation" will be out in October of 2012.  Learn more