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Myths About Technical Talks

In Business Presentations, Communication, Public Speaking on May 18, 2017 at 12:54 PM

too much data

Myths About Technical Talks

Speaking Tip 100

Talks about technical subjects, especially when delivered to technical audiences, tend to be, well, technical.  Speakers go into great depth on the details of the subject while often missing the one thing the audience is really interested in: what it all means.

Many years ago I was working with a scientist who banded birds and tracked their flights across the Pacific from California to Japan. In his presentation, he discussed the 46 types of transmitters he decided not to use. When I asked him why he did this, he replied – “my audience wants to know about the tools I used”. I explained the audience was more interested in what he learned by tracking the birds, a detail he overlooked.

In 1992, Hewlett-Packard labs in Palo Alto, California conducted a survey to determine what technical workers want to hear from other presenters.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom that says the technical audience is eager for a “data dump”, the survey results reflect people’s preference for talks that are 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 instead they focused on simplifying their message. It’s a classic example of ‘less is more’”. *

Rather than wanting more technical detail, techies wanted:

  • More concise information
  • More effective style
  • Better visual aids

When dealing with technical information, rather than give the details, tell your audience what it all means. Avoid explaining the ins and outs, the details, and technical specifications – just tell your audience what it means to them. If your audience wants to know the details, they will ask.

Good presentations focus on what their audience wants to know rather than what the speaker thinks they should say.

* Frederick, Gilbert, “The Technical Presentation”, Technical Communication May 1 1992

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