3. How to convey technical information to a non-technical audience

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Explaining what you do is sometimes the hardest part. Knowing how to simplify highly technical information so that it cuts to the point and engages your audience without compromising on accuracy is a highly sought-after skill in many professions. 

Think about scientists appearing on the media to talk about climate change or vaccinations. They have a wealth of knowledge, but if that information doesn’t get communicated to the public and policy makers properly, then it can lead to misinformation and a lack of action or confusion. 

Communicating to a non-technical audience is also important within teams, where lots of people from different professions are working together on the same project. An engineer and a finance officer might not understand every detail of each other’s work, but they still need to find common ground to make the project a success. 

Here are some practical steps for how to do just that.

Step 1: Know your audience

  • What does your audience care about? - Are you speaking to a group of business people interested in finances, or your uncle at the dinner table who just wants to know a little bit more about the investment market, or a group of your friends who want to understand what exactly a data scientist does anyway?
  • What are the key points they need to know? When you know so much about a topic, you can feel tempted to go into extra details - but keep your eyes on the prize and stick to the relevant facts. 

Step 2: Find common ground

  • See where your interests align. What goals do you share? What goals don’t you share? If you expect disagreements, then starting with a point of agreement is a good technique. 

Step 3: Adjust your tone

  • Consider using humour to break the ice. Sometimes, if you’re too technical, your audience can feel like you’re talking down to them. Cracking an occasional well-timed and appropriate joke makes you more approachable. 
  • Tailor your language to your audience and avoid technical jargon. You can explain the terms with vivid examples, without dumbing down the message.

Step 4: Storytelling

  • Everyone likes a good story. Think about creating a narrative – no, that doesn’t mean making up a literal story, but start with an introduction, and work your way up to a conclusion. Or, identify a problem and then explain how you’ve got the solution, instead of throwing information at your audience all at once to make things easier to follow. 
  • Using anecdotes helps ground theoretical ideas in practical situations, making them easier to understand
  • Think about including visuals. A picture tells a thousand words, after all!

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