Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

How To Present Technical Subjects To Non Experts

Technical experts love their specialty.  Usually, they have studied hard and long to get into their profession and there is also substantial on-going professional development required to stay current.  They are analytical types who thrive on the detail.  When they present technical subject to business people who are not experts they can run into trouble.
The slide deck will be vast and detailed.  There is a lot of information to get through and so the slides can be dense.  The subject matter, being technical, is a serious business and that is how they approach their delivery. Somber, low energy, no gestures, monotone delivery are all de rigeur for our self assured, 
serious experts.  The pace is slow, large numbers of the slides are read to the audience.  The entire atmosphere is funereal.
Is there a contradiction between the subject matter and presentation delivery skills.? If the matter is technical shouldn’t the material speak for itself.  Isn’t the presenter just a simple conduit of information?  Yes, you could do it that way, if you want to be completely forgettable, have no interest in establishing a powerful personal brand and become the go to person on the subject.  For many technical people that would be just fine, because they don’t enjoy the limelight, they don’t really want to meet new people and would rather be immersed in their specialty.
If the firm is happy for them to be nobodies in a crowded field of similar experts all vying for the same client business, then that monk like approach is a good outcome.  If however, you want your firm to stand out above the din, to become famous for the quality of your team and for your professional bedside manner with non-specialists, then a re-think is in order.
Lets start with the deck, because this is the holy grail for specialists and this is where all the time is sucked up, with iteration after iteration.  Slides can be printed out and distributed after the presentation.  Why not during?  Yes, you can do that but the chances are that you will be on slide 5 and your audience will be on slide 45 and you have lost control of their attention.  Better to mention at the start that the materials will be distributed after the presentation.  There may be one or two sheets where the detail is so dense, say numbers on spread sheets, that it is impossible to read on screen and these could be handed out at the start.
The details can be presented on the slide because our audience can read it for themselves, which means we don’t have to cover every detail on every slide.  We can show and tell.  That is show the slide in its full glory but only refer to a few key points.  This allows us to speak without being trapped by the text on screen.  We can speak to the points, elaborate and tell stories to bring the facts to life.  
Storytelling I mainly absent from the repertoire of technical presenters but these are the things the audience will remember after the talk.  They also make the detail more interesting because they are usually dealing with things at the application rather than the theoretical stage.
When speaking not every word needs to have the same value.  This is the monotone delivery approach, which quickly puts everyone to sleep.  Instead we can select out key words for additional emphasis and hit those words harder when we deliver them.  We can bring energy to the fore when we make recommendations or issue warnings.  These are simple voice modulation techniques which add validity to what we are saying.
We can use gestures to back up our words, again these bring energy to key points in a way that adds credibility to the content.  Our passion for the subject should shine through.  The specialist though often believes that their subject matter should be unemotional and delivered in a bland way, that is not controversial.  We don’t have to be outrageous to make a connection with the audience.  No matter what the subject matter, it usually has ramifications for people and people are emotional.  We can find how this topic relates to their businesses and their lives and make it real for the audience.
We don’t have to be dull.  We can take highly technical subjects and humanize them, tell stories, inject situations and people into them to bring them to life. We just need to change our mindset about what we are actually doing here.  Are we simply going through the motions or are we trying to communicate our key messages to our audience?  That decision makes the path forward very clear.
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