If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you know a thing or two about bitcoin. You can prognosticate about prices and harangue about hash rates with the best of ‘em. Despite that, you’re still part of a minority, at least according to Bloomberg. Fewer than half of Americans know what bitcoin even is, and those who do have vastly different levels of knowledge. Effective communication will change that. Here are a few guidelines for conversing about bitcoin.
Don’t get technical. Don’t assume that your interlocutor knows what you’re talking about. Especially at the beginning of a conversation, always over-communicate and reiterate. If you were selling a car, you wouldn’t start by belaboring a detailed verbal schematic of the inner workings of the internal combustion engine. Rather, you’d focus on what the car can do for the consumer—its advantages, its features, and its ability to increase quality of life. Likewise, unless you’re chatting with a developer, software engineer, or someone with an understanding of cryptography, shy away from the technical processes that empower the blockchain.
In the same vein, overly complicated discussions about economics—Austrian or otherwise—are best reserved for circles where that type of specialized pursuit is an acceptable topic of conversation. Otherwise you’ll ostracize (Austrianicize?) a broad base of potential adopters.
Don’t be careless with terminology. The meaning ofbuzzwords like “liberal” has evolved over time and is heavily dependent on context. Similar bitcoin-related terms (e.g., anarchy, cryptocurrency, etc.) have the potential to leave a bad taste in the wrong person’s mouth. They must be dispensed with care. Writing at CoinDesk, Adam Henft goes so far as to say the word “cryptocurrency” should be banished from the lexicon (and replaced with “bankless money”):
“Crypto” is a prefix that has nothing good about it, especially as far as the mass market goes (and currency is the ultimate mass market product, after all). The word raises all the negatives of bitcoin – mysterious, not trustworthy, and dangerously complex. It also triggers other “crypto” associations – like crypto-fascist, crypto-Nazi, and cryptosporidium, a germ found in fecal material that causes diarrhea. Not exactly the neural associations you’d want for your brand.
Don’t speculate or oversell. You might think bitcoin is an earth-shattering, world-changing, paradigm-shifting technological innovation (I happen to). But overselling a nascent product on the marketplace is never a good strategy. Be calm, cool, and collected in your advocacy of bitcoin; announce the revolution with a reserved confidence. Don’t make grandiose promises of wild price increases. In addition, it’s okay to say “I don’t know” to someone who asks you a question beyond your scope of knowledge. There’s already enough misinformation being spread by naysayers.
Don’t dwell on failures. Despite all of bitcoin’s successes so far, there have been plenty of failures, too. Exchanges have shut down in embarrassment. Wanton prices continue to swing violently. Illicit websites such as Silk Road will forever be associated with bitcoin. Don’t spend time on this—the media will take care of that for you. Just because you’re successfully dispelling something doesn’t mean you’re not dwelling on it. Instead, devote a single sentence of a conversation and turn the negative into a positive. (For example, “Trustworthy exchanges are now performing voluntary audits.”)
Do focus on social impacts. People respond to emotional appeal, and explanations of how bitcoin can foster social advancement will generally resonate well. Explain how bitcoin can enable more robust global exchange by addressing issues of international remittance and third-world economic development. Across the world, those who lack access to a bank for whatever reason will no longer be at a categorical disadvantage. Non-monetary applications of the blockchain, including smart contracts and smart property, can further obviate the need for trust, granting easier access to credit to underprivileged individuals and businesses.
Do highlight personal benefits. People are self-interested by nature. “What can bitcoin do for me?” Tackle this question head-on, highlighting bitcoin’s ease of use. Share how low transaction costs and miniscule transaction times change the way property is transferred. Mention how bitcoin can enable and popularize small payments. Focus on how simple and beneficial it is for businesses of all sizes to accept bitcoin by partnering with companies like BitPay or Coinbase.
Do synchronize your Johari window. In 1955, psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a concept known as the “Johari Window.” Based on individual dispositions, every person has a natural Johari Window. Introverts have small windows and tend to reveal less when communicating; in contrast, extroverts have wide-open windows and are eager to share. Your window is not fixed, however. Synchronize your Johari Window with your conversation partner to engender a sincere connection. While Bitcoin may be a trustless protocol, conversation is not.
Do prove your case. You can talk about bitcoin until you’re blue in the face. At the end of the day, however, actions are more persuasive than words. People like proof. Offer to set up a wallet for someone and send them a millibit. Demonstrate in real time the nearly palpable wonder of a bitcoin transaction. It’s often the initial hurdle that’s the highest to jump over for newcomers; tear down that barrier and it won’t be long before your interlocutor is doing the same for someone else.