Here are three strategies that you can use to improve your skill at technical communication, especially when speaking to non-technical audiences.
This is a frequent challenge I see with data scientists, BI analysts, financial experts, and others from a variety of different technical fields.
Many of these individuals have to present to non-technical people among senior executives, clients, internal stakeholders or other colleagues. So they have to explain concepts in a way that will be relatable and accessible to that audience.
1. Use your old learning material
Look at the reading material you used when you were learning these technical concepts for the first time.
How was the information presented? What kinds of stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and motifs did the textbook use? How did your professors or online courses explain these concepts?
Once you get 5-10 years into a field, it’s easy to forget how the info was presented originally. But go back to the earlier material, at least to get a framework and a sense for how the information was delivered.
It’s also great for your empathy and humility as a presenter. You will remind yourself that there was a time when you didn’t know anything about discounted cash flow, probability, statistics, machine learning. At some point in the past you didn’t know how to write one line of code.
So going back to the early material helps you put yourself in the shoes of your target audience.
2. Practice your technical communication in front of non-technical audiences
There’s three types of audiences that you can experiment with, and get feedback from:
Colleagues that sit in other functional areas of the business: These are people that have no context and no background in your technical field.
Children: Believe it or not, practicing your messaging and your delivery in front of children is very informative. Kids will be brutally honest, and if they’re not interested in what you’re saying, or you’re not entertaining or engaging, they’re gone. It also forces you to simplify the info and make it very accessible for them.
Non-native speakers of English: Look for anybody that is fluent in English but is not a technical expert in your field. This will force you to speak in a simpler and more accessible way so they can understand what you’re saying.
3. Experiment with new communication techniques
We can think of this as “Continuous Improvement.”
If you’re in a very hot and fast-moving field (5G, Machine Learning, IOT, etc), there are constant new developments. And this means new technical information.
So you have to keep your messaging and communication style fresh. You never want to get stagnant.
So always be testing out new communication tactics. This can happen in networking conversations, over social media, or when getting coffee with new professional connections.
Slip in some new messaging, new themes, new keywords or key phrases and see how people react.
This is very low-stakes stuff. They are not actual presentation situations where you have to perform.
But these scenarios provide opportunities to test out your technical messaging. It will be very helpful to continuously improve your storytelling and communication abilities over time.
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