How to Deliver a Technical Presentation

In today’s world, technical people including scientists, engineers, and programmers are being challenged more and more frequently to give presentations to others. And not just to other techies. Often they are speaking to people with little or no technical expertise.

Nothing will bore an audience faster than if you jump into a jargon-filled and overly-technical speech.

So how can you transition from technical to non-technical when you speak? How can you present a technical message that your non-technical audience understands? In this blog post I outline five truths about delivering a technical presentation that is clear and convincing.

Technical Presentations

1) Audience Research Makes It Easier

The first rule you should adopt for success in ANY presentation is around understanding the needs of your audience. As you are preparing for the speech it is your job to figure out WHY your audience may care about the information that you are presenting.

Knowing who you’re talking to is as important as knowing what you’re talking about. Your audience’s knowledge level, experience, learning style, and attitudes should affect how you shape and present the material. For example, if you are explaining an emerging technology to your company’s Board of Directors, they are probably more interested in how it can be applied and what that means to the bottom line, not the ins and outs of how the technology actually works.

Here are some questions you should answer as you are doing audience research:

  • What does the audience already know about the topic?
  • How much knowledge can you take for granted?
  • How much background will you have to explain?
  • Will the audience understand basic jargon?
  • What is the audience’s learning style?
  • What is their stake in the subject?
  • How will the presentation affect their work?

Technical Presentations

2) A Clear Objective Goes a Long Way

Once you have clearly identified what interests your audience, the next question to answer is what you want the presentation to accomplish. What do you want your audience to do as a result of the presentation? What is the objective?

Do you want them to

  • Challenge your assumptions or confirm them?
  • Implement your procedure or approve your proposal?
  • Give you the go ahead for the next step of research?

While non-technical speakers are often “light” on content, technical presenters more commonly try to present too much material. Therefore as a professional it is your job to know what to say and, just as importantly, what not to say. That necessary distinction will become obvious when you define a clear objective.

Technical Presentations

3) Keep it Simple Stupid

When you know what you want the audience to do you can get to work on the task of actually putting together your content. As a presenter you must figure out how to present the technical information in a way that appeals to the audience.

The most important thing to avoid with content is going into extensive detail.

Start with a summary of the most important points the audience should know. Then back it up with only as much information as is needed to drive the message home in a persuasive way.

Simple graphics are a great way to present technical information or concepts. For a technical presentation to resonate with a non-technical audience you should use appealing props, pictures, and stories — or whatever else it takes to engage your listeners while sticking to your subject.

4) Real World Examples Bring it to Life

Giving a real world example of your offering is probably the most effective way to make the presentation memorable for a non-technical audience. Strong examples are more persuasive than piles of numbers. Take advantage of that.

Make your talk different. Switch between tell and show, general statement and specific example or anecdote, and lecture and interaction. For example, beginning with a clear, simple chart will show the trend of the data and give notice that your evidence is solid. Follow this up with with a real world example that makes the data come to life.

If you are talking about a technical term or concept you should try to “translate” it into something that lay people can understand. This will help the audience better connect to the material. The more visual the descriptions you paint, the easier it will be for your audience to connect with the material.

Technical Presentations

5) Less is More

It is tempting to want to give your audience all the information, but you NEED to focus on the key message. Sure some of your audience members may want more information than what you’ve presented, perhaps some of the technical details. That’s no problem! At the end of the presentation you can include a slide that tells them where to go to find more information, perhaps the full technical document, the scientific report, or specifications.