Summarized from an article by Fredrick Gilbert. Originally published in Technical Communication in May 1992
The tone of the technical presentation is impersonal, objective. The content is often data, statistics, and facts. The tricky part is that this objective information has to be presented to subjective human beings. To hold their attention and get their agreement, the technical presenter also must draw on general principles of human communication. The first is to make the content easy to understand.
HP Labs Survey
Last year we conducted a survey at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Palo Alto, California, to determine what technical presenters wanted to hear from other presenters. We found that rather than wanting more technical detail, they wanted more concise organization, more effective style, and better visual aids (usually overhead transparencies). As one project manager put it, “Don’t tell me the details of how you got the data, just tell me what the data means.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom that says the technical audience is eager for a “data dump,” our survey results reflect people’s concern that talks be well organized and easy to follow. Technical speakers who try to show how much they know by making their presentation complex would be more successful if they focused instead on simplifying the message. It’s a classic example of “less is more.” Simplifying and repeating the “core message” results in increased agreement and retention.
Technical presentations are similar to, and different from, non-technical presentations. They are different in that they focus on physical events or data rather than people. The technical audience already has specialized knowledge about the topic. Like people in any audience, though, their time is valuable, and they don’t want to be bored.
To make your next technical presentation successful, remember these guidelines.
- Deliver the talk with enough style and audience involvement to keep them interested.
- Keep the content clear and the organization easy to follow.
- Reduce the number of visual aids and keep them big, bold, and colorful.
MYTHS ABOUT TECHNICAL TALKS
- Content is everything. Style is unimportant.
- Technical people are very bright, so it’s okay to do a data dump.
- The overhead projector is more important than the speaker.
- Enthusiasm is offensive. Analytical people expect boring presentations.
- Technical talks are simply informational; they’re not meant to be persuasive.
This is a summary of an article origianally printed in 1992. For a copy of the full article, send an an email to email@example.com.
iSpeakEASY offers offers workshops for scientists and other technical professionals. Contact us for more information on how you can improve your technical presenations
Frederick Gilbert is president of Frederick Gilbert Associates, Inc., a presentation skills training firm in Redwood City, CA. 1-800-828-1909. http://www.allbusiness.com/technology/306693-1.html
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