Do you deliver data to non-technical audiences? Here are the 3 best ways to deliver a technical presentation.
Does your job involve delivering technical information to non-technical audiences? If so, you have a lot of company. Entrepreneurs and inventors, financial advisors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, scientists—the list is very long of subject matter experts who present to teams or individuals who don't share their area of expertise.
In cities rich in high-tech companies and startups, these interactions are particularly common. As a speech coach in the Boston/Cambridge area, for instance, I have many clients who need help connecting with non-technical audiences of their colleagues or customers.
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Sometimes that involves performance skills, of course. But in other instances, the work is more about outlook and approach. So here, below, is my take on successfully answering the question: "How can I succeed when I'm presenting to a non-technical audience?"
Strategy: Focus on Your Audience and Purpose
The first step is understanding that in your performance itself, your data doesn't matter as much as your ability to talk about it. Does that seem a startling concept?
But think about it. In many cases, your listeners have already received the information beforehand. Your job as a speaker is precisely to tell your audience why this data matters to them—in other words, to talk about it in terms of their needs.
To do that well, you have to understand those listeners as closely as possible—how they think, and just as important, what will reach them most powerfully. That's why it's important to conduct an audience analysis. That will give you the "who" you'll be talking to, in terms of demographics, prior knowledge, expectations, preferences, and values. And don't discount the emotional climate that may exist with this group at this time (such as, for example, recent disruptions in the company or industry).
The better you know where this non-technical audiences lives (so to speak), the more armed you'll be concerning how to reach them. At this point, pay careful attention to your specific purpose with these listeners. Yes, you'll probably be tempted to retreat to the comfort zone of your data. But data don't live in limbo—you have to connect your audience to the information, in that order. Here are some performance skills to help you connect with listeners once you know where you're headed.
Performance: It's About Story and Emotions
As that last sentence implies, you should probably work on improving your platform skills. That's particularly vital if you spend most of your time relating to data rather than people. Apart from that general suggestion, use the following three approaches to help get your technical information across to your non-techie audience.
Tell Stories. Technical data by itself usually doesn't carry the emotional power that you need to move an audience. Telling them a compelling story that relates that information to human motives—and especially to their lives—THAT delivers the emotional impact you should be aiming for. That's what storytelling in business settings is all about.
Every time you present, whatever your topic, you’re telling a story. You can call it a ‘narrative’ if you like. But you’re always, or should be, fashioning a framework so that people can a) make sense of your data, and b) understand that input in terms of how it relates to their lives and others’ lives. You might be speaking of the most technical issue imaginable, but if your audience is as passionate about it as you are, well, then there's emotion involved.
Tap Into Emotions. So let's talk about that last point. Neuroscience tells us that information that elicits an emotional response is retained more strongly than non-emotionally connected material. In other words, if something you say lights up an audience member's emotions, he or she will pay more attention and remember it afterwards.
Can you beat that for making your presentation memorable? I'll answer that: No, you literally cannot. You may understand why it's important for your non-technical audience to receive these data. But if you can engage their emotions as you make your point, they will come to that conclusion for themselves. Doing this is not as difficult as you may think. Weave the data into your story (involving human motives, remember?), and you'll be incorporating all-important emotion into your discussion. Your listeners' responses will be all the more powerful.
Use Metaphors. Speaking metaphorically is one of the best and fastest ways to make your points come to life. Long-winded explanations and complicated flow charts are fine, and may even be necessary. But the right metaphor can crystalize your point on an instant. As an actor, I can give you endless examples from, say, Shakespeare (e.g., "All the world's a stage"). You're the technical expert, though. So where's your enlightening comparison or analogy?
Here's an added advantage: Your audience, expecting only statistics, etc., may be delighted to hear your refreshing comparison. Just don't make the mistake a data scientist client told me about recently: He made his metaphor so central to his argument, that the meeting attendees misunderstood. They took the metaphor to be the actual model he was discussing, and took it back to their company with unfortunate results. Lesson: use a light touch.
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