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The power of Attention, Understanding & Recall
Presenting technical information to a non-technical audience is one of the biggest public speaking challenges.
At some point, most of us have encountered a speaker that has got it wrong. They deliver too much information, at the wrong level, in the wrong way.
The result is a speaker that feels proud of how clever they are and how much technical information they have shared, but an audience that is left bored, confused and ultimately, frustrated.
So how do we solve this puzzle and become the kind of expert technical presenter that audiences want to hear from?
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Before we discover some techniques for presenting technical information to a non-technical audience, it is useful to first understand why so many speakers get it wrong…
Why so many technical speakers get it wrong
I first came across the idea of ‘The Curse of Knowledge’ in a book called 'Made to Stick' by Chip and Dan Heath.
The Curse of Knowledge is a scientifically proven effect afflicting many experts. The Curse of Knowledge is that when we have superior or expert knowledge, we lose the ability to imagine what it's like for others not to know as much as we do.
We cannot remember ever existing without this knowledge.
We expect others to know as much as we do too.
We overestimate their ability to understand or know the information that we know. We assume that everyone knows as much as we do.
So what does this mean in terms of presenting technical information to a non-technical audience?
Well, a speaker who suffers from the Curse of Knowledge will likely start at a point that is far beyond their audience. They will assume that their audience will understand as much as they do. Why wouldn’t they? It’s so simple? So obvious? (Well, it is when you know it!)
The result is that when the speaker is presenting technical information to a non-technical audience, they will use language and terms the audience don't understand. They will leave their audience baffled, bedazzled, but ultimately none the wiser.
How can we overcome the Curse of Knowledge when presenting technical information to a non-technical audience?
Being conscious of the fact that you suffer from the Curse of Knowledge is the first step to becoming expert at presenting technical information to a non-technical audience. Once you realise what is occurring, you can consciously change what you say, and how you say it, to achieve success.
Beyond being conscious of the challenge, there are three quick and easy things that you can do to become expert at presenting technical information to a non-technical audience;
There are three easy things that you can do to become expert at presenting technical topics to non-technical audiences
Focus on the needs of your audience
So many expert speakers (with their Curse of Knowledge) spend their presentations telling their audience what they think they need to know, rather than what the audience actually needs to know. If you are a Professor of Astrophysics, then yes, the search for dark matter across the universe is interesting, but if you are presenting to a class of 10 year olds, then it is likely not what they want or need to hear about. They will likely be much more inspired and interested in (and able to understand!) an introduction to space travel and exploration.
Expert presenters of technical information to non-technical audiences take the time to survey their audience to understand their current understanding and what they want to know. You can do this before your presentation simply by researching with your potential audience. Alternatively you can start your presentation with a show of hands to check your audience’s current understanding and what they would like you to focus on.
The result will be an informed speaker (you!) delivering exactly what the audience want to know, in a way that they can understand it. Success!
Use clear language when speaking
The second thing that expert technical presenters do is that they use clear and concise language that their audience can understand. They avoid jargon, acronyms and complex words.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But when we’re impacted by the Curse of Knowledge, it is so easy to assume that everyone knows the terms, jargons and acronyms that we do.
A quick way to ensure that your language is right for your audience is to use the ‘8 year old test’. Could an 8 year old understand the words that you are using? If not, simplify, or explain them. Sorted!
Use layering when speaking
Remember when you first discovered that shining a light through a prism split it out into a rainbow of colours?
Discovering this amazing concept wasn’t just one lesson. It was a series of learnings built up from when you were very young.
These lessons probably included:
- Discovering what each colour is
- Discovering the order of a rainbow
- Discovering that light is a wave
- Discovering that light is made up of a range of colours
- Discovering that glass refracts light
If someone had shown you a prism splitting out light BEFORE you had discovered all of the above, then the prism experiment would not have made any sense to you. You needed all of the lessons and discoveries beforehand to understand the prism experiment and how glass refracts light out into its constituent wavelengths and colours.
Great speakers that excel in presenting technical information to a non-technical audience, recognise that understanding comes through the layering of information. We need to understand smaller concepts and ideas before we can understand ‘the big idea’.
If you want to become an expert at presenting technical information to non-technical audiences, then take the time to pull apart the concept that you are presenting. What are the smaller elements or building blocks that you need to explain to your audience so that they can understand the overall concept?
Can you explain them in clear language, at a level that your audience understand? Can you order them in such a way that they build logically to a full understanding of the overall concept?
If you can consciously do these things, then you are well on your way to becoming a successful presenter of technical concepts to non-technical audiences.
Join a course on presenting technical concepts
These three initial tips are a small sample of the many ways in which speakers can effectively present technical information to non-technical audiences. SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT - We cover many more techniques and practice using them in a safe and supportive environment as part of my course on ‘Presenting complex topics, simply’.
If you would like to be more successful when presenting technical information to non-technical audiences then you can tor get in contact here.
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We also share public speaking thoughts and tips in video format too. Click the video to watch this vlog by Rich Watts, public speaking expert and 2x national public speaking champion.
To watch all our public speaking tips videos, visit the Rich Public Speaking Youtube channel here.