Technical Presentations for Non-technical Audiences

Mac computer sitting on presentation desk.
Photo by: Patrick Robert Doyle

Whether you are unveiling a new machine learning algorithm to your non-technical CEO, or whether you are helping your relatives remove that pesky app they swear they never downloaded, presenting technical concepts to non-technical audiences can be difficult and nerve wracking. However, it does not have to be this way. There are a couple of guidelines that I like to go by, and they have worked well so far. Because I am passionate about technology, I can get carried away explaining how it works. Unfortunately, my audience does not always want the in-depth explanations I can provide. However, by adjusting my presentation I can get the information they need across, give them relevant follow up information, and hopefully make them want to learn more. The following are my top 3 guidelines for presentations in no particular order.

Don’t dumb it down

My problem with this term is that you are assuming that your audience is dumb. This is not the case. Because your audience is not at your level of knowledge does not make them dumb, you were in that spot at some point. Instead think this way, “If I was at that knowledge level, how would I want it explain to me?”. This approach is better because you have changed your attitude to trying to explain concepts to a capable audience that can make sense of what you’re saying. Do not spoon feed them the soup of knowledge, instead walk them through how to use the spoon to feed themselves.

Look at your audience

Whether you are presenting to one person, or a room full of people, look at your audience. There are many reasons for this, but the reason that is relevant to this topic is because you need to be aware of your audience’s body language. A boring presentation or confusing presentation will become apparent, body language never lies. You can use this to your advantage. You can gauge engagement of your audience to increase the complexity of your presentation or change the way you are explain concepts. The goal is not to sound so smart that people cannot understand you, the goal is to allow your audience to gain knowledge to reach your common goals.

Be approachable

How many times have you heard a variation of “He/She is the wiz here; I could never understand that”? For some reason, I hear this often from non-technical audiences, and I am not sure why people put themselves down like that. However, I find it rewarding to refute that argument by helping these audiences learn a new technical concept. Here is something that people refuse to acknowledge; they love to learn new things. It is rewarding for everyone involved, but they are scared to be put down by someone that is more knowledgably than they are. This leads to the tittle of this section, be approachable. An approachable presenter will help audiences feel good about the questions they have, and it will allow them to be comfortable with the learning experience of the presentation.

By adjusting these guidelines according to the type of audience you are presenting, it can lead to a very successful and engaging presentation. The more practice you get, the more you will understand how to tailor these guidelines to each audience.



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