Nerdsplaining And How To Avoid It

Ian Lurie

There’s a scourge in marketing: Nerdsplaining. It sucks the wind out of meetings, causes eyes to roll violently back, and may cause some clients to choke on their turkey sandwich.

If I’ve ever inflicted these on you, leave a comment:

PPC: Ask me why your Adwords campaign is sucking wind, and you’ll get a ten-minute course on quality score, natural language processing, and Google’s profit motive. After the first two minutes, you’ll wish you had a sledgehammer.

SEO: I DARE YOU to ask about ranking factors. I F–KING DARE YOU. I’ll treat you to a detailed explanation about distance from perfect, the amygdala, word vectors, and why John Meuller is one of the good guys. Add a whiteboard and poof. That’s twelve hours you’ll never get back.

Canonicalization: I already wrote a three-part blog post about this. ’nuff said.

Social Media: Easy. Dunbar’s Number. It only takes about five minutes to explain, but a lifetime to forget. Which you’ll want to after I follow up with 10 minutes explaining why it no longer holds true.

Now that I’ve wasted five minutes explaining it you understand: Nerdsplaining means needlessly drilling so far down into a topic that your audience loses track of the original point. I can nerdsplain anything. It’s irritating.

Nerdsplaining can also mean assuming your audience doesn’t understand when they do. This version is just insulting.

But it’s so much fun. See how smart I am! Convert to The Way of Marketing! Spread the word! And it’s cute. Almost endearing. That’s what my wife says, anyway, right before she says “interesting” and changes the subject.

The Problem With Nerdsplaining

Nerdsplaining can also ruin you. It’s persuasive white noise at best, a snore-inducing, patronizing poopfest at worst.

Do the math:

  • One client request
  • Meeting time: One hour
  • Attention span: 5 minutes
  • Desired information: 5-minute conversation
  • Nerdsplanation: 35 minutes
  • Result: Client never asks a question again

You’re the smartest in the room. Your answer is pithy and valuable. And the client wants to shove you down an elevator shaft. They learned you’re an eccentric genius (if you’re lucky), or a patronizing tool (if you’re not). They did not learn the answer to their question.

When Is It OK?

There’s a time to nerdsplain. When you’re teaching an audience that wants the “advanced” course, for example. Or when someone asks. Or when someone who “knows marketing” goes off on your idea and needs to be sandblasted.

Those times are few and far between. Usually, you want to avoid it.

How To Avoid It: Get To The Point

I have no idea. I’m one of the worst nerdsplainers on the planet. If you ask me what time it is, I’m going to tell you how the watch works, why we have Daylight Savings Time (fuel conservation, from what I understand), and why time slows down when you’re on a fast train (it’s called time dilation). By the time I’m done, you’ll wish you used a sundial, or you’ll be playing Bloons Tower Defense on your phone.

While they were holding my head underwater, a few friends suggested strategies:

  • Consider the audience. If you’re in a room full of marketing nerds, they may want to understand the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Most people just want to know their ROI
  • Observe and adjust. If people are stifling yawns so hard their eyes are watering, and they look like someone shoved a toothpick in their eardrum, you’ve gone too far. Pull up!!! Pull up!!!!
  • Listen. When someone nods and says “interesting” while their eyes unfocus, they’re probably not interested

Or, you can just ask/warn the audience:

“If you want, I can geek way down the rabbit hole about this…”
“Stop me if I’m nerdsplaining™ (Ian Lurie 2018 not for reuse without permission)…”
“If you already know, this, stop me. I don’t want to waste your time…”
“Your click cost tripled because your ad stopped performing. Google cares about that. I can give the details if you want, or I can jump to how we fix it…”

Or, you can just get to the point and stay here. Which is the point. When people ask a question, they need the answer. Not all of them want the agonizing details. Understand the difference.

Also, if you catch me explaining how the watch works, say “interesting,” and I’ll move on.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. As a fellow occasional nerdsplainer (copyright royalties en-route), I am also guilty of this for the following reasons:
    1…… Just kidding. (see? I’m already applying my learnings) 🙂
    Thanks for the insightful & fun read, Ian!

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