Public Speaking Tips for Techies Presenting to Non-techies

Today we're going to talk about something very dear to my heart. Public speaking for techies who are presenting to non-techies. We've all been there, sitting through a boring technical presentation, trying to make some sense of all the technical jargon and detailed flowcharts. I absolutely get it. I am a techie myself. I actually have a Master’s degree in Computer Science, and I spent more than a decade in the IT industry. So, I absolutely understand that struggle. I've presented myself to non-techies many times and I've watched my colleagues presenting to non-techies as well. So today, I'd like to share with you six public speaking tips for techies presenting to non-techies. Now, if you're a non-techie yourself, these tips work for absolutely all presentations, so stay with me.

If you prefer audio only, you can listen to the full episode on my podcast below or on iTunes.

#1: Make it relevant.

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. Most of the time when a techie presents to non-techies, the non-techies have no idea why they're listening to the presentation. It has to be relevant to them. It has to be for them. It has to benefit them and they have to understand exactly how it benefits them. To help you, you should think of your audience asking you a question after every sentence out of your mouth. Specifically, the question “And so what?” Any time you speak, you should immediately think what if my audience asks me, “And so what?” This question means how does it benefit me? Why am I here listening to you? If your audience doesn't feel that what you're talking about is relevant to them, you've lost them.

#2: Explain everything to your audience as if they were seventh graders.

I don't mean to dumb down your presentation, I just mean don't use really big words. Don't use too much technical jargon because once you start inserting technical jargon and your audience doesn't know those terms, you've lost them. And once you've lost them, it's going to be almost impossible to bring them back. My advice to you is if you absolutely must use technical jargon, first of all, minimize it. Bare minimum. Second, make sure that you define all of those terms for your audience using easy words because if you are defining your technical jargon with technical jargon, that defeats the purpose. Remember, do not lose your audience. Make sure that they understand everything. Because if they understand, they're going to get excited and that's exactly what you want to happen.

#3: Use lots of examples, analogies, stories, and jokes.

Talk to your audience rather than lecture them. Imagine that your non-techie audience members are your dear friends and they're sitting in your living room. You wouldn't lecture them, right? You would have a conversation and as a part of that conversation, you could tell them stories to make that idea come to life. You’d paint mental pictures in their mind so that they can see it. You would give them analogies so that they can see how it relates to them, how it relates to their life, and how it relates to the whole world around you. You may even crack some jokes. You would make it alive, real, engaging, and captivating. You would make it a conversation. Don't look at your presentation as a lecture. It is not a lecture. It is a conversation. And only through a real conversation with examples, stories, jokes, and analogies, can you make your idea come alive and become contagious.

#4: Do not overwhelm the audience with your knowledge.

Not only you should make it relevant to your audience, but you should also make it simple for them to digest. Don't include complicated flowcharts and really detailed diagrams, particularly those that require your audience to have 20:20 vision. They don't need all of that. Only give them the essentials. Only what they absolutely must know. Keep it simple.

#5: Do not use your slides as a crutch.

Techies love their slides, right? How many times have you seen a presentation where a techie is presenting, reading off of the slides with his or her back to the audience? Plenty! First of all, you should never ever read off of your slides. You never stand with your back to your audience. How are you going to be engaging and captivating if all they see is the back of your head? How are you going to have a conversation? Have you ever had a conversation with your friends where you're standing with your back to them? It just doesn't work this way. So, never ever turn your back to the audience and read.

Secondly, when we left-brainers create slides, we tend to favor bullet points. Have you seen those long slides with 10 bullet points per slide? Yeah, doesn't work. Your audience falls asleep. It's extremely boring to stare at a slide with 10 bullet points. So what you need to do instead is to break up your bullet points into one bullet point per slide. You can read that bullet point because it’s short, but then you talk around it. You have a conversation with your audience about that bullet point. Then you go to the next slide with your second bullet point. Again, you can read it if you want to and some research has shown that audiences remember the point better when they can hear it and read it themselves on screen at the same time. So you can go ahead and read that one bullet point, but again you are also going to talk about it. You're having a conversation with stories, knowledge, examples, and jokes around that one bullet point. Make it engaging.

#6: Practice in front of a non-techie to get constructive feedback.

This is important. A lot of techies practice, of course, but very often they practice either by themselves, or they practice in front of their techie colleagues. What you want to do is to practice in front of non-techies because your techie colleagues won't give you quite the same feedback. When you're practicing in front of your non-techie friends or colleagues, you need to ask them to give you feedback on two things. Number one, on your content, and number two, on your delivery because both are important. You should not only ask: Was my talk interesting? Did you understand everything? Was something unclear? Were you excited about the ideas that I shared? But you also want to ask them about your style of delivery and how your delivery went. Was I engaging? Was I captivating? Was it interesting to both hear me and watch me? Was I passionate about my topic? How did you feel about my delivery?

And here are your six tips again.

  1. Make it relevant.
  2. Explain everything to your audience as if they were seventh graders.
  3. Use lots of examples, analogies, stories, and jokes.
  4. Do not overwhelm the audience with your knowledge.
  5. Do not use your slides as a crutch.
  6. Practice in front of a non-techie to get constructive feedback.

I hope this has been helpful. Have a wonderful day and take care!


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