Well it depends who’s listening.
Obstacles when giving technical presentations to non-technical people:
- Don’t adjust to audience’s level of understanding
- Fear of exposure
- The presenter’s style
- Lack of skill in showcasing numbers
- Forgotten storytelling skills
Don’t adjust to audience’s level of understanding
Giving a technical presentation to fellow technical people is easy. They see the world in a similar way to you. They understand your thinking and your acronyms. They know the context of your explanations. In short, they are much like you. It’s easier to be understood by people like us.
But what happens when you’re presenting to senior managers? I’ve seen this happen countless times. The technical presenter – whether from IT, engineering, quality assurance of finance – assume that the senior executives understand them. In fact, they often assume that because they’re senior managers they know the material BETTER than the technical presenter.
This is mostly not the case. Often the higher you go in an organisation the more distance a manager is from the heart of the technology, or techniques. A good presenter will adjust their content to match the audience’s level of understanding.
Fear of exposure
After ten years of working around Asia with technical professionals, I’ve come to believe that a trait of a technician is “I say too much because I know too much”. I think that these very intelligent people suffer from a fear of intellectual exposure. If they don’t show how smart they are on their subject matter expertise then they will be judged.
Often the opposite is the case. The reason why we like TED talks so much is because very intelligent people are talking on very technical topics and making them so very accessible for everyone. I think to use the analogy of you should be able to express what your presentation is about to an intelligent ten-year old. In today’s world you’re rewarded for saving people time and energy. Don’t worry we know you’re smart!
The presenter’s style
In my experience as a presentation skills educator, I’ve observed thousands of presentations from technical executives. I’ve noticed that they tend to be very process-driven. They start at the beginning and they end at the end, often going into excruciating details along the way. They tend to be deliver with a very steady and on-the-low-side energy level. They’re often completely focused on the data. This is largely due to the style of the presenter. Technical presenter’s love this style. Most audience’s don’t.
Lack of skill in showcasing numbers
Technical presentation need numbers. Often in detail. But does this mean that all the numbers should be shown all at once on one slide!
No. But why do so many presenters do this? I think it’s risk-aversion (another trait of technical presenters!). The thinking is “if I put all the numbers up, the audience will work out which ones are important”. But the presenter needs to shape the meaning. When working with numbers the law of contrast and comparison needs to be used. Presentation of numbers need to be simplified so that the data supports a particular message. This is simple to understand once you know the techniques. By judging from the amount of slides I see crammed full with charts and data tables, it’s not yet fully and widely understood.
Forgotten storytelling skills
What do stories have to do with technical presentations? Well, a lot. If you want to engage and hold an audience’s attention these days, you better learn story telling skills. Learn how to pace and adjust your voice and your energy levels. Learn the flow of a story. How to create tension or curiosity. And importantly how to have a morale (or message) to your story. You have to tell the story behind the numbers. That’s your job!
Ask us about “The Technical Presenter” Workshop which helps technical professionals communicate concisely, engagingly and memorably to non-technical audiences. Your meeting productivity will shoot up!
Warwick John Fahy and The One Minute Presenter Team
About the Author
“Warwick helps C-level executives, working in multinational companies based in Greater China, who struggle to get their point across and influence their key stakeholders. Warwick helps the executive project their message with confidence allowing them to express their opinions powerfully and gain respect from senior managers even when under pressure.”
Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.
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